Written by Mary Litteral
“A good editor is someone who has seen such a range of things that they know what’s appropriate for a given context. The other part of being a good editor is using good resources.”
—Dr. Kate Fedewa, WRA 370 Instructor
Before I ever took WRA 370, Introduction to Grammar and Editing, I knew that I wanted to be an editor or writer of some sort. I’ve always loved reading and often got tripped up with grammatical errors in my favorite books; that alone was motivation enough. I was imagining this course to be like how I learned grammar in middle school, as in, we would do an exercise to learn the grammar and then complete an assignment that was followed with a quiz—and that was it. This course provides plenty of practice with handouts and quizzes, but also offers so much more. Like all other PW courses Grammar and Style has surpassed my expectations.
Introduction to Grammar and Editing takes place in Bessey 317 at 10:20am—which means each morning I am greeted by several round and squishy dragons as well as one large three-headed dog. I sit in the corner next to the bookshelf, which provides physical copies of our required texts, which are “The Chicago Manual of Style”, “The Subversive Copy Editor”, and “The Copyeditor’s Handbook.” The CMS and CHB can be accessed online, which can be easier, but as the book lover I am I prefer the real thing. It’s nice that 317 offers these resources because it can be difficult toting such large books to class; it’s hard being a commuter girl.
When Dr. Kate Fedewa arrives and class begins, everyone quiets down and listens. According to the syllabus she has several anticipated learning outcomes. The first goal is to become familiar with “all things grammatical” and the “form and function” of each part of speech. This is achieved through readings, handouts, and quizzes—like middle school, except fast paced and much more challenging. Then the course focuses on exploring the resources an editor would use day to day and the rules of correctness, clarity, and consistency. She does this by giving resource research assignments, which allow students the opportunity to explore the effectiveness and appropriateness of multiple resources. Additionally, students learn how to use digital editing software and how to use editor’s marks on print copies. Kate instructs this course with firmness and flexibility. She isn’t strict on minor assignments, but when it comes to larger projects her grading is more meticulous. Although, if the entire class is struggling with a project, she has designed the class schedule to accommodate changes based on class progress.
“Whether you are pursuing an editing degree or not, people will expect you, as a Professional Writing major, to be able to do [editorial work],” Kate explained one day in class. WRA 370 has many notable assignments that are excellent for providing practice to prospective editors; yet it also offers a base knowledge for those who may be surprised to encounter an editorial assignment in other careers. The most noteworthy, and my favorite, is the multi-round copyediting assignment. This project required the class to break into groups of three; from there we delegated the roles of editor, writer, and observer. We organized ourselves so that each group member took all three roles for one another. After that we took a paper that was completed at the beginning of the course and emailed them to each other for a light, medium, or heavy copyedit. It was particularly beneficial because the assignment wasn’t for a fictional editor, but an actual author who needs their work edited before a specific deadline. Not only that, the multi-round project gives you a true understanding of author correspondence and how they might accept or reject your edits. It offers the perspective of a writer who is receiving edits, the aspect of the observer, which gives you an additional insight into the editorial process, and the role of the editor who will suggest changes.
As someone who wants to be an editor in the future, this was very valuable. Responses to editing can besurprising sometimes; people don’t always respond the way that you expect them to, and it is reassuring to know what to expect before entering the professional world of editing and publishing. I find this a lot in PW. The department and many instructors within it aim to create experiences—not just assignments.
One day I had the opportunity to ask Kate a few questions about the before and after of WRA 370, and she had a lot of great advice to share.
“What advice do you have for students who hope to take this class?” I asked.
“Students who haven't taken it yet should brush up on their grammar in advance if they can. They should read like a writer and an editor already. They can start thinking through things that they’re reading for fun and consider how the text reads not only at the chapter level but also at the sentence level,” Kate replied.
“What can students do immediately after taking this course? How prepared are they?”
“Students are in a position where they could start to look for freelance work. That said, editing is something that takes a lot of time to get good at. So I would recommend looking for opportunities on campus. Take the ING or Offbeat courses, join RCR or ReCUR. There are great opportunities to get involved with. The work that you’re doing matters—it’s no longer just introductory practice. But you’re not expected to be an expert; you can learn.”
“Have you heard back from many students who have taken your class?”
“I have heard back from a lot of students who are doing editing work within another position that also requires other tasks, which is pretty common. I have heard great things from all of them based on their level of preparedness. They can see their work making a difference.”
Another thing that I have learned from Kate is that she is an editor. She has been where I eventually hope to be, and, even though there is a plethora of fantastic editing resources in print and online, the chance to talk with an actual editor is invaluable. Especially one who actually wants to talk to you, too.
So far, this class has been really eye opening and immersive. I feel like I can understand what it will be like to be a freelance editor, which in my opinion is a great place to start. Relearning grammar and mastering the necessary editing resources is very challenging. However, it is definitely worth the time and effort.