Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
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So, What Do You Do?

Sometimes people ask me what it is I do as a Proposal Editor (not often, but it does come up). Well, mostly I try to clean up the language with a light hand, using standard Proofreading marks. It’s a skill and an art, touching the sentences here and there, tightening language with a tweak or two that will pass under the engineers’ noses without offending them.

It’s a tough job, but I actually enjoy it. It’s funny, sometimes, the things they come up with. But those LOL sentences are rare, stretched across thousands of pages, between which I fix comma splices, eliminate strings of prepositions, copy acronyms, and ensure subject-verb agreement. Mostly, I make these little green marks (authors here use red) all over the page as neatly as I can.

This morning, joking via email with Jon, I came up with an example of the type of proposal language I regularly see. He’d mentioned going down to the Hampton’s breakfast buffet before it closed. I replied:

“Though the breakfast buffet sponsored by Hampton Inn and Suites (HIaN) closes at 10, recent visitors leaving directly at 10 in the a.m. yesterday, together with the successful procurement of nourishment in the form of Otis Meyer muffins and fresh unpeeled bananas, proved the effectiveness, if not the efficiency, of the HiaN’s included-breakfast sponsorship program.”

If you’ve ever “been on a Prop.,” that should sound familiar. If you haven’t, take my word on it, it’s a hoot.

I really enjoy editing. Nitpicking is a favorite pastime, and I feel like I’m good at it. Years in fiction workshops honed the editing skills I use so frequently now. Don’t forget that Prop. editing is a niche that pays really well.

There are problems, even when I edit with "the mildest words I know," I run into a stubborn “author” who believes his (or, more rarely, her) work is perfect-as-written, and that all I should be doing is checking for acronyms and pasting little gold stars on it. I have never bought any little gold stars, much less been inclined to hand them out. Anyway, I ran into such an author today.

Not to go off on a rant, but WHAT is it with engineering types who think that the complexity of their content justifies bad writing? Today, I asked for clarification on a sentence that was really obscure, and the guy said “See, now, you're jut over-reading. It makes perfect sense. It's a fine engineering sentence.”

I thought (but did NOT say): "No, it's English, attempting to convey engineering concepts. It needs a verb."

I just cleaned it up as well as I could without changing it too much. So be it.

But seriously, why do engineers think that because the technology is hard to understand, therefore the English should be too? Why be inaccessible? Why justify the inaccessibility, except to keep themselves above, apart, and validate expensive educations?


I came REALLY close to cutting him down. I could have, too. I had all those clear, concise, biting sentences (see above) in my head, ready for my tongue, the second he laughed me off. (It's good to know good English.)

But I didn't. I'm a wimp.... you're reading the work of a wimp. Did you know?

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