Words, Expression, and Orderliness

Holy wanderings of a compulsive intellectual

My name is Venkataraman Anantharaman (Venkat for short), and I have spent most of my time learning as well as training young minds into the art of copyediting. After obtaining a PhD in clinical biochemistry, I decided to explore the writing/editing aspects of science, and have been at it for over 23 years.

After working in companies in India all these years—and with almost all major publishers—I’ve now started out on my own to do what I’ve always wanted to do: provide copyediting training to the publishing industry. I offer copyediting training to companies (in person in India) as well as to freelance editors (through webinars, e-learning courses).

Training is one of my core strengths, and I have evolved my own methods of teaching copyediting over the years. I am writing a book tentatively titled Principles of Copyediting (currently about 312,500 words). I have been working on it off and on for the last 10 years (with material collected over more than two decades). Concepts and examples presented in my training/webinars are simply those culled from my book.

My Teacher

A good teacher can play a crucial role in a person’s life. A great teacher moulds and shapes your life. The teacher is initially a person, but gradually becomes a voice that speaks to you from within, from the depths of your soul. The teacher is a silent but dynamic living force, which is why probably in Indian mythology, the first teacher (Dakshinaamoorthy) is depicted as teaching his disciples through silence. The teacher can be the single greatest force in a person’s life. Knowingly or unknowingly, I managed to document the influence of the teacher in the form of an email that I wrote 17 years ago.

I’m reproducing that email below. And this is the background:

I have a teacher, and I am very devoted to learning whatever my teacher can teach me. A few years down the lane, I accidentally stumble upon my teacher’s email ID. I then write to her. My teacher doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know who I am, doesn’t know that she has a student in some other part of the globe, who has been quietly learning from her (writing). Although the mail is addressed to her, it doesn’t really begin with Dear So-and-so or My Dear Teacher. All that the teacher reads is a story.

Now read on. You will see that the story is interesting enough to possibly inspire you. . .

My Life and Work

Timelines and Achievements

PhD days

  • Was fortunate enough to read Robert Day’s How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper during my PhD days
  • Wrote my PhD thesis exactly the way a thesis should be written, following every valuable instruction on thesis writing
  • Started editing—for the love of it!—whatever material passed through my hands during those days

The initial years

  • Took to an editing career the way a duck takes to water (after a brief stint as a biochemist)
  • Was lucky enough to have access to hundreds of native-speaker-edited hardcopy manuscripts as well as their typeset versions
  • Learned copyediting from Karen Judd (my copyediting guru)—rather learned it from her book on copyediting
  • Got a firm grip on copyediting by working on live journal manuscripts
  • Attempted to compare and contrast publisher specifications
  • Had the good fortune to observe and study hardcopy manuscripts edited (in colorful pens and pencils!) by US/UK editors
  • Edited a friend's PhD thesis; his supervisor was so impressed that he sent me a couple of papers for editing before submitting them for publication!

Team lead

  • Started handling a team of people; started preparing style sheets
  • Became proficient in editorial style sheet preparation

Learning manager

  • Started using Excel as a production management tool
  • Became proficient in production planning, production management
  • Followed my intuition and started my own way of teaching copyediting
  • Prepared a list of about 150 standard queries often used in journal editing
  • A student of mine went to the United States with her husband. After a year or so, she wrote to me (in 2002) saying she had cleared the BELS (Board of Editors in Life Sciences) test, that she was now a certified Editor in Life Sciences, and that she owed it all to my [earlier] training and guidance
  • Chanced to interact briefly with my copyediting guru! Reproducing a spiritual poem to express my emotions, I wrote to her:

From morn till eve I live for Thee,
Night I sleep to dream of Thee,
All my acts are offering to Thee,
My life, my soul, it belongs to Thee.

Soul call I

  • Had an inner urge that I should start writing a book on copyediting; almost instinctively, had already been collecting plenty of material right from my entry in the editing profession

Living the passion

  • Developed my own set of "rules" for teaching editing
  • Developed the concept of using "catchwords" and contexts for learning principles of editing
  • Started using Word styles for editing (as against the codes/tags used by almost everybody at that time); started using Word macros by taking help from others
  • Mastered style sheet preparation by preparing/overseeing over 100 editorial style sheets
  • Learned the art of handling over 50 people and keeping them charged, motivated, and enthusiastic

Intense awareness

  • Conceived of important concepts relating to both book editing and book production management (developed fully in later years)
  • Became proficient in preparing journal templates
  • Started collecting and using Word macros on my own
  • Developed a simple and profound way of assessing copyediting—something that will work for any copyediting manager whatever be his or her level of understanding of the art

Proficiency

  • Worked with almost every major publisher and received accolades from almost all of them
  • Sample of appreciations received:
    • The quality of the sample copyediting is on par with that of the copyediting done in the United States
    • A masterful job of editing
    • Your copyeditors would do a better job on a tough project when compared with our own freelance editors in the United States
    • Your copyeditors did considerably better than everyone else whom XXX tested
    • Your copyeditors have successfully passed a copyediting test that US copyeditors could not
    • You’ve been very successful in building copyediting teams, and we’d like to see if we can apply any of your principles on our end

Production management and quality

  • Mastered Excel as a production management tool (I am yet to see a software in the publishing industry in India that can do what my Excel sheets can do!)
  • Evolved, established, and perfected a powerful quality tracking sheet (QTS) for daily use—QTS for markup—which could help distinguish quick and slow learners among editors attempting to get a grip on markup

Consolidation

  • Took time off to write a huge chunk of my magnum opus tentatively titled Principles of Copyediting (about 312,500 words till date)
  • Developed precise and detailed definitions for light (L1), standard (L2), and professional (L3) editing
  • Prepared examples and explanations indicative of (a) different levels of editing (b) incorrect medical writing
  • Compared, dissected, and summarized the hyphenation and en dash preferences of major style manuals
  • Prepared my own detailed recommendations for retaining the distinct uses of the en dash and the hyphen in scientific writing (not yet published)
  • Developed a quality tracking sheet for pinpointing language editing progress and capabilities (QTS for language)

Book editing

  • Developed and perfected a standardized Word styles template with content controls and shortcuts for handling with ease book projects of any complexity
    • Easy to prepare project-specific templates from the Master template
    • Exceptionally user-friendly for the copyeditor
  • Extrapolated the idea to using a single set of Word styles for any journal or book-editing project (whatever be its complexity), irrespective of the output (specified or unspecified Word styles/tags) required by the publisher/typesetter—in short, the copyeditor used the same template, same shortcuts, same workflow whatever be the project. At the end of the editing process, a few scripts were run to convert the file to match the output-file requirements!
  • Mastered principles of book editing: Handled all kinds of STM and HE books and evolved detailed concepts for editing any type of STEM book
  • Developed the concept of a ribbon-customized copyediting tool (Word Add-in) that will work independently as well as interactively with my Master template
  • Started basic work on the copyediting tool

Reaching out

  • Participated as the lone Asian speaker at the Editors Association of Canada Editing Goes Global International Conference held at Toronto in June 2015
  • Presented a proposal for precise and detailed definitions for light, standard, and professional editing based on logical principles, and outlined how the approach can be used for
    • teaching and training
    • live editing
    • assessing work done by an editor
    • defining levels of editing
    • helping editors to move from one level to another
  • The technique can also serve as a method of teaching English at a certain higher (collegiate?) level

Automation

  • Built a simple yet sophisticated production-planning–allocation–tracking software based on my expertise with Excel-based tracking
  • Developed a customizable auto-file-delivery and auto-mail system for delivering copyedited files
  • Continued work on the copyediting tool; developed some practically useful automation related to formatting as well as language editing for daily use in journal/book projects
  • The approach of the tool is that it can also double up as a learning tool

Soul call II

  • Sensed a strong inner urge that I should do something to rejuvenate copyediting as a profession in India as well as share my knowledge with the world at large
  • Started copyediting webinars for copyeditors in India who were interested in learning
  • Started preparing course modules for teaching copyediting right from the beginner level to the highest professional levels

The Art of Copyediting

  • Founded The Art of Copyediting
  • Remember my copyediting guru, who first lighted the lamp of knowledge in my heart—whom I have never seen till date—and wonder: Have I been an editor worthy of her love?
  • Realize that I have been ignorantly/blissfully away from social media—that I would have to start indulging in them soon!
  • Conducted webinars for editors in India on courses they wanted

Digital delivery of courses

  • Launched the self-paced e-learning version of The Art of Copyediting courses globally
  • The Art of Copyediting is now ready to cater to the following groups:
    • Freelance editors across the globe
    • Organizations (organizations, institutes, and companies) requiring editorial training
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