Shelley Reid .


English 503, Theory and Practice of Editing

Course Information

Spring 2008  --  Mondays 4:30-7:10  
Professor E. Shelley Reid


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Books Grading Go to WebCT site


This class is designed as both an introduction to and intensive practice in the wide-ranging activities of contemporary editing, from proofing and copyediting to assembling a multi-text document, and from designing layout to negotiating with authors and editorial contexts. Assignments in this class will focus particularly on non-fiction textual editing, but you will have the opportunity to extend and apply those skills to other kinds of editing.

By the time you finish this class, you will better be able to do the following:

  • Describe the many roles editors assume in their workplaces, and their ethical and professional responsibilities

  • Articulate editing objectives and provide a rationale for each objective

  • Anticipate authorial responses to editing and make adjustments as necessary

  • Distinguish between proofreading, copyediting, and comprehensive editing and to demonstrate your skills in all three

  • Edit both hard copy and electronic documents, attending to both alphabetic and visual elements, using both manual copymarking and online editing software

  • Decide upon and implement macro-level editorial decisions, including criteria-setting, design, selection, and arrangement of texts into a larger collection


Textbooks: Copyediting: A Practical Guide (3rd ed.) by Karen Judd. Also: a comprehensive style book, such as The Hodges Harbrace Handbook (14th ed.) by Glenn & Gray. Both are available at the Campus Bookstore.

Additional readings will be made available through our WebCT site; see syllabus.

Software: You'll need access to MS Word or another program that allows change-tracking.

Grading Overview

(See the Assignment Descriptions for full details)



Short Editing Projects


1. Edited "Schooling" essay + explanation


2. Revised "Schooling" essay + reflection


3. Informational Layout + explanation


4. Selection Memo


5. Editor's Choice project + explanation


6. Revision, SP 1, 3, or 5 + overview


*Option: Drop one grade (1-5) and count revision as 15%





Reports, Exercises, Participation



Includes Area of Interest Report, 10 Rules + Exam Questions, writing-bank essays, short homework, and in-class projects






Final Collaborative Project



Includes work plan, style sheet, letter to author, edits with explanations, final project, and final report (split grade, individual and group)






Final Exam



Will include a sentence-editing section, a document-editing section, and a short essay.


Completion Policy: You must complete all projects and the final exam to pass the class.

Grading Expectations for Class Assignments

To earn "A"-level grades, your work will need to be

  • complete, including all steps or pieces, and responding to all designated questions

  • correct at the sentence/mechanics level, according to current standards of Edited American English

  • stylistically appropriate, according to the audience and purpose of the piece -- this may include visual as well as textual style

  • demonstrative of best practices in editing, including standard editing marks/processes, design or layout elements, and editorial ethics

  • rhetorically adept, with attention to the needs of the individual author and the general context, purpose, genre, and/or professional situation

  • aware of complexities, alternatives, contradictions, and/or multiple variables, as demonstrated in reflective or explanatory writing as well as in editorial comments

Other Policies of Note:

Attendance is expected. This is a collaborative, workshop- and participation-intensive class, so missing more than one meeting may affect your participation grade. (And we'll miss you!)

Late work will be penalized one letter grade for each calendar day beyond the due-date. Lateness due to rare, uncontrollable, natural disasters won't be penalized; please contact me as soon as possible to work things out. You have one two-day pass for the semester: the chance to turn in any assignment two days late without penalty. (Two-day passes may not be used for an assignment your group was depending on or for the Final Project.)

Classroom conduct: Although it goes without saying, sometimes saying it is important, especially for an interactive class: you should maintain an attitude of professional respect and courtesy -- though certainly not always agreement -- toward other class members. Your collaborative team will also set group-expectations for the Final Project, by which you'll be expected to abide.

Professional conduct: As an editor, you also need to demonstrate respect and courtesy toward the authors whose texts you review. They are real people who have trusted you with their work. You should not discuss or distribute it outside class without their permission. We'll talk this semester about how to balance your own reactions of humor, frustration, and/or confusion with the need not to speak disrespectfully about the texts or the authors who created them. Generally, though, professional conduct goes beyond "the golden rule": you might not mind if someone said/did X or Y concerning your writing, but your author might.

Students with disabilities: Students with documented disabilities are legally entitled to certain accommodations in the classroom. Students requesting such accommodation should present me with a contact sheet from the Disability Resource Center(703-993-2474). I will gladly work with students and the DRC to arrange fair access and support.

A few notes about emailing me


I spend a lot of time on email, and would much prefer to answer your question when you have it (and while it's still a small question) than to have you forget the question or have it turn into a large frustration! You can help me to help you if you can. . .

  • be specific in your question or comment: what have you already tried or considered, and what are you now concerned about?

  • put the course number -- "Engl 503" -- in the Subject line, along with a short description of your reason for writing, and take the extra minute to write a complete piece of communication (salutation, message, signature, absence of glaring errors, etc.).

  • use or include your GMU address in the email; for privacy reasons, I will respond only to that address.

I read email daily, but I don't always respond immediately; I usually do email catch-up on Friday or Saturday. If your question is time-sensitive -- you need a response soon to meet a deadline -- please indicate that in your message. If I don't get back to you in my catch-up time, please send me a quick reminder in case I've forgotten.


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Last updated January 2008 Email Shelley Reid