September 23, 2006

"Copy editors do the line editing and Dummifying."

"It’s a word we use to talk about how to make text comply with our style guide.... We address the reader as you — you can, next you do this — we don’t talk about we... We try to be funny, or at least lighthearted.... We don’t use future tense, we don’t use passive voice, we don’t have long chapters. A 26-page chapter is getting pretty long.”

Yeah. I agree. Keep it short. But write a lot: There are over 1,000 "For Dummies" titles, with 200 new ones coming out every year, and a list of "For Dummies" things that could be written that's too long ever to get through.

CORRECTION: 1,000, not 1,500 titles.


Maxine Weiss said...

Smart move. You don't want to have a post with a 4-letter curse word at the top of your blog...

....on a religious holiday weekend.

So you moved quickly to come up with this post, that has no four-letter words.

Very nice.

Peace, Maxine

tiggeril said...

Is this "conspiracy theories about Althouse" month and nobody told me?

Maxine Weiss said...

"The Complete Idiot's Guide To...."

I guess that one wasn't as popular.

I wonder why calling someone a "Dummy" is more adventageous, than calling someone a "Complete Idiot" ???

I wonder if "Imbecile" or "Moron" would have played ??? Maybe those are a little too harsh.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...



You have to be careful not to insult your audience too much.

The point when it's not funny anymore...

Peace, Maxine

bill said...

Idiot's Guides may not be as popular, but they still exist.

Concerning this:
said he had some friendly discussions with his editors about the passive-voice rule. “Sometimes I’ll write something like ‘the patient was comatose and was given thyroid hormone,’ and they’ll change that to ‘the patient was comatose and took thyroid hormone,’ ” Rubin said. “I have to tell them these are extremely sick patients, they can’t take care of themselves, they have to be passive whether Wiley likes it or not.”

This isn't so much a debate about passive/active voice as it is an example of slavish adherence to a style rule when it doesn't make sense. The argument for active voice is that it's more direct and less prone to misinterpretation. This is why it's the preferred style for procedural information. First rule for documentation should be "do not confuse the reader." In the preceding quote, the edit incorrectly puts the action on the comatose patient. Incorrect, as the comatose cannot DO anything. The active phrasing incorrectly describes the event; therefore it's wrong no matter what your style guide says.

knoxgirl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
knoxgirl said...

I can see it now:

Copyediting for Dummies! by bill.

George said...

This talkback is something up with which I will not put.

JustSomeGuy said...

I wrote a Dummy book about 10 years ago. At the time, they changed nothing themselves, though they had the rule about passive voice and other things.

They've changed hands since then but it was one of the most pleasant experiences I had as an author. My editor was fantastic. So good, I was embarrassed at myself for how well she clarified my thoughts.

Freeman Hunt said...

Catholicism for Dummies is easily one of the best general overview-type books I've ever read. It was the first "for Dummies" book I ever bought, and I was so impressed that I've gotten a few more since.

When you're looking for a basic overview on a topic, the "for Dummies" format works very well. They're extremely quick reads and the minimalist style cuts off the puffy prose and allows them to pack in a good amount of actual information. Reading one of these books is like reading a fairly detailed outline on a broad topic. Makes it much easier to do further research.