City Binoculars
12
Feb
2013

Editorial Pedagogy, pt. 3: Developing Editors and Designers

This is the third installment in a three-part series on Editorial Pedagogy, a critical and three-dimensional approach to teaching, editing, and service. The first installment introduces the practice from a theoretical framework; the second describes its application to the multimodal writing classroom. 

It may seem tautological to say that an editorial pedagogy works well in editing and publishing classes. But, as I defined this pedagogy through an example of a writing-based classroom, in which I mentor students, students mentor each other, and students mentor me through writing for publication, in this installment, I want to clarify how an editorial pedagogy works equally well when working with students (or journal staff members, or publishers, or technical writers, or…) whose “jobs” are to make texts as perfect as possible in a given situation.

With editing and publishing students, or with the staff members I work with on Kairos, my editorial pedagogy plays out on the production end of the publication spectrum. That is, while students in my writing classes are developmental authors from many degree backgrounds who go through multiple rounds of feedback, are expected to take chances in their work and maybe even fail, and the final-project expectations are “Revise and Resubmit,” students in my publishing classes are (primarily) editors in a professional degree sequence who are expected to be exacting and perform editorial work that is as close to ‘perfection’ as is rhetorically possible. This is also true for any of the technical communication classes that I teach such as proposal writing and editing.

My editorial pedagogy is recursive and developmental in a different way than with the writing students: With publishing students, I mentor them to understand the rhetorical complexities of all types of published texts (e.g., seemingly objective technical documents, poetry, experimental fiction, digital scholarship, etc.), to apply and question knowledge from their other publishing courses in my assignments, and to revise and proof their editorial and production work multiple times. Whether they are writing their first grant proposal to NEH, helping an author through a developmental peer-review letter for the Writing Program’s experimental scholarly journal, copyediting an article or proofreading the galleys for that journal, building content for a print publication’s companion website (in a content-management system), or mining metadata from a digital media journal like Kairos, I push these students to hone their work until it is as close to perfect as possible, because that’s what will be expected of them in the workplace. Conversations about rhetorical expectations (e.g., what IS perfect? Is it ever attainable?) are the foundation for every assignment, as they should be for every grading experience.

For example, in a recent Technical Editing course, I partnered with the Writing Program on campus to have students edit the program’s new, print journal that functions as the textbook for all of our first-year writing classes. The journal publishes short, peer-reviewed articles on genre studies, sometimes in experimental genres themselves. The authors and audience of these articles include high-school students, undergraduates, graduate students, instructors, and community members. For the editing class, I asked students to learn about scholarly journals as texts in an academic ecology (through primary and secondary readings), the journal itself (reading the first issue, which is also one of their textbooks for the editing class, and analyzing the submission guidelines therein), and the values of the editors (through interviews with the WPA/editor and her production assistant). Throughout the class, the students and I had in-depth, sometimes heated discussions about what a scholarly journal should be and how the program’s journal, Grassroots, should fit into that mold. (The publishing students are often so driven to create a perfect text — e.g., one that matches their expectations of form and content — that they need to be pushed to consider how a professional publication can both fulfill some expectations while also breaking others in order to be innovative.) My role in these discussions is to play devil’s advocate, to keep the conversation open to perspectives that value experimentation (something I know well from Kairos) while also understanding that a publication has to meet certain genre expectations (in design, content, citation style, etc.) so that even experimental texts help readers understand them.

Our conversations ranged from concept discussions of what it means to “be” an editor, how editors serve readers through their editorial work, and how to build relationships with authors. For this latter example, we worked on several phases of developmental editing with authors for Grassroots, including writing initial peer-review critiques, which allowed us to discuss large-scale issues such as peer-review systems (open-, closed-, anonymous-, interactive, etc.), style and tone, publication vision/mission, and appropriate developmental levels of edit depending on production workflows. Unlike the peer reviews in the Multimodal Composition classes, the articles that the publishing students critiqued were not their own, or even from their own class. This process was closer to what they would find as editors in a publishing company, which is where many of these students find work after graduation. Throughout the course, and as part of the critique, we discussed how different genres of publication (scholarly, trade, textbook, literary, technical, etc.) might require editors to shift their developmental strategies with authors. While experimental journals like Kairos and Grassroots allow for capacious revisions from and overt mentoring of authors, not all publications allow that. So, then, how does an editor work closely to develop an author’s work while acknowledging the mission, values, and/or time constraints of that venue? Of course, there are ethical considerations that accompany these decisions, and these discussions become part of the mentoring process, but exceed the scope of this short article.

One assignment where students had to rework an article for an author — really take it apart and re-arrange it, as an extreme example of the kinds of hands-on developmental work that experimental journals or edited collections, or even literary editors (which many of them want to be) might provide — was meant to help students address the rhetorical questions above in a productive manner. Student-editors had difficulty, at first, making any more than surface-level edits, the kind that usually come near the very end of the editorial process during copy-editing and proofreading. Students — like many new editors at Kairos — didn’t feel they had the authority to change the author’s work in any significant way, even when (to me) it was obvious that the fourth paragraph of an article really needed to be the first. This wasn’t a moment of failure for the students, but a moment of learning: This class is usually the students’ first in editing, it’s the first time they’ve had to edit someone else’s work, and they didn’t want to mangle the author’s voice. That intuition, to allow the author’s voice to rise to the top, is a good one, as I noted in class, but then we discussed how, as an editor, their responsibility to the readers and the journal is greater than to a single author. How, for instance, might they honor the author’s voice while also answering to the venue’s and readers’ needs. And to the layout/design constraints of the publication? And what is possible for them and the author to accomplish given the constraints of time and budget? The students learned that each editorial decision (at the developmental level of editing, for sure) is a delicate rhetorical balancing act within large-scale genre ecologies, not just a-contextual line-by-line practice replacing incorrect comma splices during the copy-editing stages, which is what most editing students think editing is before they take this class. As one student wrote in her (successful) application for a prestigious campus scholarship: “This class’s atmosphere mirrors a job’s, so the responsibility and expectations required of us are exhilarating.”

These conversations are not unlike the ones I have with section editors for Kairos, to help them prepare quality webtexts for publication within their individual sections. And, although the Kairos staff are all volunteers, their editorial work is certainly job-like. Just as students in my digital publishing classes found the semester-long project to mine metadata for Kairos’s 15 years of back issues job-like. Indeed, three of them found jobs in online publishing working with metadata after that class. Instead of anything resembling the publication cycle for a journal, students’ work mining 29 fields of metadata for every single file in every single webtext Kairos had ever published produced over a million data points in dozens of spreadsheets — data that had to be made as accurate as humanly possible during the semester because it was the only chance for the journal to collect it. I met with students on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, in conferences, to visually scan their spreadsheets, point out the errors (I admit to having a Virgo gift at catching inaccuracies from 10,000 feet), and give them time to correct the mistakes before the next class meeting, all while discussing with students each week why they were being asked to do this assignment and what good it would do them in the publishing world. It was preliminary on-the-job training, in essence: preparatory research, practice, and feedback in the safe environment of a pedagogically informed classroom where mistakes could be made without penalty, until the final project was actually due. I should note that it is possible for students to fail my classes, or much more rarely for staff members to be asked to step down, when they fail to take feedback into consideration or simply do not do the work on time or at all. Revise and Resubmit requires interaction and engagement and listening and doing.

Editorial Pedagogy as Standard Academic Practice
It may seem convenient to discuss editorial pedagogy in relation to a publishing or writing for publication class, but I also use it in my service work. Using an editorial pedagogy helps me to professionalize graduate students for the job market. Since 2005, I have volunteered both locally, at my institutions, and nationally, at the Computers and Writing conference each summer, to host job-market workshops for graduate students. These workshops help students (and alum, in some cases) prepare all the materials they’d need to enter the academic market: CVs, letters, philosophies, research agendas, portfolios, etc. As part of these workshops, we always discuss how these genres need to change according to one’s disciplinary area, professional identity, school identity to which they’re applying, and other socio-cultural and historical factors. We also discuss the emotional and psychological upheavals that this change in one’s life produces. This is a part of being an academic, and it’s part of an editorial pedagogy: caring about the work and the environments in which a person produces. Perhaps even caring for the person. I don’t know. But I do know that making all of the implicit cues of the academic job search (and fellowships, post-doc application processes, etc.) as explicit as possible for students who range from scared and confused to cocky is one of the greatest satisfactions of my service to the profession.

I also know that while I love learning from students, engaging with the Kairos staff and colleagues in my field, and reflecting on the intersections of my teaching, editing, scholarship, and service, that these examples I’ve written about are MY examples. I’m cognizant — as any good editor should be — that one set of examples does not fill everyone’s needs. I have a long and growing list of criteria that I believe make a great editor. I’m still working on many of them, which, thankfully, an editorial pedagogy helps me do. But one of those best-practices criteria is to always make sure the reader is taken care of. And, so, dear reader, I need your help: How would an editorial pedagogy be useful for you? Maybe it’s something you already do, under a different name? Maybe you think it’s too fuzzy-humanities-feelgood? If so, how are your students mentored, and what can we learn from that? Maybe you work in a totally different discipline where risks in classrooms are more highly rewarded or frowned upon? How do you see this kind of recursive, reflective work happening in your department? Your discipline? Please share in the comments below.

[Photo by Sprengben]

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1 Response

  1. Derek

    This is something we have been discussing in my advanced communication program where I am a graduate teaching assistant. I want to know how we can develop a curriculum and assignments for students of varying disciplines that are practical, professional, and real world scenarios. The pedagogy you describe, Cheryl, is one that I am very interested in and want to learn more about.

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