Editing as “desophistication”

Every writer has stories about editors–the great ones and the other ones. But I wanted to share what Johnny Grimmond, our doyen of style at The Economist and author of our Style Guide, has to say on the matter. I have already quoted Johnny on the vital issue of like versus as (never to be confused!). Here now is what he says about editing (British spelling, of course):

It is quite easy to rewrite an article without realising that one has done much to it at all: the cursor leaves no trace of crossing-out, handwritten insertions, rearranged sentences or reordered paragraphs. The temptation is to continue to make changes until something emerges that the editor himself might have written. …

The moral for editors is that they should respect good writing. … A writer’s style, after all, should reflect his mind and personality. … Editors should exercise suitable self-restraint. … Bear in mind this comment from John Gross:

Most writers I know have tales to tell of being mangled by editors and mauled by fact-checkers, and naturally it is the flagrant instances they choose to single out–absurdities, outright distortions of meaning, glaring errors. But most of the damage done is a good deal less spectacular. It consists of small changes (usually too boring to describe to anyone else) that flatten a writer’s style, slow down his argument, neutralise his irony; that ruin the rhythm of a sentence or the balance of paragraph; that deaden the tone that makes the music. I sometimes think of the process as one of “desophistication”.

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