Thursday, June 30, 2011

Editing for one voice: the good, bad, and ugly

It’s not uncommon when many are contributing writing to a project that someone will edit so that it all reads as “once voice.” The idea is simply to smooth out the radical differences in writing styles to create a better experience for the reader.

On a basic level, this involves ensuring terms, acronyms, spelling, capitalization, and other elements are consistent.

One voice that sings

For projects where specific authorship is irrelevant, such as responses to requests for proposals (RFPs), grant requests, and accreditation applications, editing for one voice is essential.

The focus is on providing accurate and complete information in a clear, compelling, and consistent manner. It’s not about impressing with a slick writing styles or clever turns of phrases.

In these kinds of situations, editing for one voice is a good thing. If there are radical differences from one section to another, it can create confusion and annoyance.

Multiple voices blended

When the project is a compilation of several writers who are writing specific chapters or sections, and who will be credited for their writing, then the editing needs to be less.

While there should be consistency throughout in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and so forth, the individual voices of the writers should be respected. Readers will not be annoyed in these situations because they are expecting and even appreciating the different styles.

Editing that’s off-key or overkill

Editing for one voice can go too far.

In the case of proposals or accreditation material, you still want the writing to be interesting and engaging. While it won’t be reflective of any one person’s style, the writing should not be bland or completely void of style.

The goal is to create a pleasant reading experience for the evaluators, not to bore them to death. The writing, while author agnostic, must still be lively and memorable in order to gain a positive evaluation.

In the case of compilations, editing out personality can result in excessively re-written pieces and no sense of personality in the writing. I contributed to a project where this happened.

Even though multiple writers with distinct styles contributed nicely written pieces, they were so heavily edited and rewritten, none of us could recognize our own contributions.

The result was sections that were bland and non-engaging which was exactly opposite what the publisher was aiming for. Subsequently, sales of the completed book have not lived up to expectations.

It’s not just about typos

Editing material for one voice takes a deft touch and a good ear. Yes, you need to be able to “hear” the writing. This is not the kind of project to hand off to a college English student or a novice editor.

Look for an editor who has had experience in proposal development, accreditation materials development, or editing compilations or book series.

Editing is much more than hunting for typos, ferreting out questionable grammar, and getting punctuation right. The quality of the editing can give life to a dull project, or it can kill even good writing.


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