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September 17, 2005

Comments

Dave Taylor

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Erik. There are a couple of facets to my discussion that I think are being breezed past, however, not the least of which is that my core argument is that READABILITY, that is, the ability of the reader to comprehend exactly what the writer tried to convey, is directly related to the number of obstacles that are placed between the writer and the reader. If I have an atypical style of using italics and bold, then any decent editor should *communicate with me* and we'll then go back and forth to find a happy compromise.

Instead, I submitted my article to a magazine that *automatically strips out all formatting*, making it impossible for me to even utilize common typographic conventions to convey information to my readers. It's not quite "blogger complaining about the big world of publishing", is it?

There's also a significant difference between our perspectives because we're both dancing around the fundamental question: are words commodities? That is, are writers just suppliers of words that are then sculpted and massaged into what the publication needs, or are they (or at least the good ones!) more akin to artists supplying carefully crafted prose that they have a reasonable expectation will be reproduced in a reasonably accurate form?

For background info, I've been senior editor at a national magazine, I've written hundreds of columns and thousands of articles for magazines, and I've also written twenty books. I've got a bit of experience with this edit cycle. :-)

A very interesting discussion!

Donna

You're very right, Eric. One more thing that most readers are not aware of -- writers DO NOT usually write the headline for the story. So besides not being in control of things like italics and other formatting, we scribes have very little say in the head that the magazine or newspaper slaps on the story.

Eric Eggertson

Dave: Having been on the intake end of paper-based and online publications and content management tools, I've been bitten in the butt by hidden text formatting more than it's been useful, so I suspect the publication in question is probably responding to some past disasters when some code that wasn't noticed before makes a noticeable formatting change to the version that got printed or posted online.

MS Word in particular seems to carry many surprised in the way it codes text.

Yes, it's annoying when editors make what seem like very arbitrary changes to text, with no explanation. And it would be nice if the companies that strip out all formatting let you know in advance, so you could 1) not waste your time on formatting; 2) send along a marked-up copy so they know how you want it to look 3) decide in advance if it's something you want to argue over.

Sorry if I oversimplified your argument a bit, but I was making a point that the editor and writer often BOTH think they're the one calling the shots, and generally it's mostly the editor, and partly the writer who calls the shots.

Eric Eggertson

Donna: That's a particular problem when the headlines, captions and call-outs are either very boring or very bombastic. Your by-line is right there, whereas the assistant editor who penned the headline is blissfully anonymous!

Wendy Sharp

I had the same thought, Eric, although for different reasons. And a different opinion on who the dog is! The readers are the ultimate dogs: we need to meet their needs. Since their need is generally for information to be delivered as quickly and as efficiently and as accurately as possible, spending tons of time on unnecessary formatting is not doing them a service. If each and every article (or book, in my case) needs to be hand-massaged and individually formatted, publication will inevitably be delayed: is the difference in readability from a word being bolded or italicized really worth the extra time it would cost in production? In my opinion, definitely not. Tell me a formatting change affects accuracy, and maybe I'll change my mind!

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