Last year I joined the Canberra Society of Editors, CSE. Since I am not a professional editor (though I have acted in the role for a few publications) and I have no formal qualifications, I joined as an Associate Member. When I signed up the webform asked me what I might contribute to the society. I mentioned the things I knew something about, and newsletter editor Farid Rahimi came back suggesting that a message to the society newsgroup asking whether people would like to be introduced to LaTeX might be worthwhile. We sent the message, got a handful of responses, and, well…I wrote an article. It is here, the June 2015 issue.
Writing an article for a magazine whose readership consists entirely of people who specialise in finding errors in written English is scary. In the end I just had to forget about the audience, write it for a general reader, and then check it over fairly carefully. Fairly…
I decided that the topic was so wide that the best approach was to outline LaTeX’s main capabilities—logical mark-up, defining your own commands, cross referencing, good default text flow—then focus on LaTeX’s strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to editing. The change tracking facilities of modern WYSIWYG programs, most obviously Word, are very widely used tools—many modern editing textbooks have whole chapters walking the reader through the use of Word’s reviewing tools. Grammar checkers are also an issue. Equivalents to both of these tools can be found in the LaTeX universe, but they do not operate in familiar ways or provide like-for-like functionality. These things are real issues for editors.
In order to cover the ground I felt was important, yet not occupy the whole newsletter for several issues, I broke the content into two parts, a high-level review that was the actual article, and an example document that implemented many of the qualities to which I referred. The latter is available on my little download page here (cse_example.zip), a file bundle that includes all the source files needed to compile the document, including a gnuplot script that produces a graphic included using the gnuplot-lua-tikz package, a bibliography, mathematics, inputted files, and so on.
This year Canberra hosted write|edit|index, the 2105 Australian Conference for Editors, Indexers and Publishing Professionals. Though not a publishing professional (I’ve produced a little bit of content from time to time…), I attended to learn about the arts in question. It was one of the most enjoyable conferences I’ve been to — and it was right in my own back yard. I learned an enormous amount.
The first thing I learned were that my grasp of grammar are inadequate. The second thing was that you can be an editor if you are good enough to get and keep the business.
Editors and indexers are a diverse bunch. Many are freelancers — self-reliant business people. Any given editor may have specialised in editing fiction, whipping documents into shape for government departments, fixing the English found in scientific papers, who knows. This was reflected in the range of topics, from continuity in the novel through using markup languages to indexing texts in South Africa.
As a Physicist I found the gender balance unfamiliar. At a session by Sarah JH Fletcher (‘Everything in its right place: fiction continuity’), I counted about 45 females and 3 males, including myself. Even at a Physics meeting I would expect the audience to be more evenly split than that — say 40M:8F. The ratio was most pronounced in sessions to do with editing fiction, but was always tipped that way.
I can’t help but wonder why. Does the freelance, flexible nature of much of editing and indexing work better with the career interruptions caused by family life? (Despite change, this is still likely to impact on women more strongly than on men.) I know many female academics whose careers suffered due to pregnancy. Are women simply better with words? Are men too precious to work hard on somebody else’s words without (much? enough?) kudos?
The sessions were for the most part extremely sensible and useful. The panel discussion on ‘Valuing our professions’ got down to cold hard numbers — talking about dollars per hour and working out your businesses operating expenses.
And I liked their banner head…