Because it is, you know, Sunday morning, and I have a nice cup of tea in front of me, and the kids are playing quietly in the back of the house, and DrMrA is watching soccer, I think I’ll blog. The New York Times sitting next to me can wait.
I know I’ve not been writing a lot here- and this is because I’ve been writing my little fingers off for my real job in the last month or so. Some of the text has been student written drafts edited by me, some has been my drafts edited by others, some has been all mine. All of this has led me to think a little about the process of editing, and about juggling a manuscript back and forth between multiple individuals.
When I was in graduate school, my thesis adviser edited everything on the printed page, and it was good (for those of you youngsters remember that the internet was hardly invented at that time). You were expected to write the first draft of your manuscript, then would get whole deal returned to you bathed in red pen. I am sure that it took him/her hours to do this- because the level of detail that he considered a manuscript in was truly exquisite. You would spend hours trying to interpret the chicken scratch handwriting in the margins and over the printed text. Now and then you would have to ask for a translation of what he had written in there because his/her handwriting was so unintelligible (not to insult the handwriting- but who knows if he/she was juggling a kid in one arm while writing with the other). In the end though, you really had to read the text extremely carefully to figure out what he/she wanted in the text, and then you had to type it in. For me, this was an important part of the process of learning to write.
The ‘track changes’ function was totally foreign to me in grad school, for all I know it didn’t exist then, so I can only assume that it became popular while I was out of the lab. For those of you that don’t know- track changes is a function in Word where you can edit a document and your edits appear a different color in the electronic document, then the person that you hand the manuscript off to can go through each change one by one and accept or reject them in the electronic document, or you can just accept or reject all the changes in one step.
Fast forward to my postdoc. Postdoc adviser did everything with track changes, and nothing on the printed page. I confess it took me a while to get used to looking at manuscripts like this, being wedded to looking at the print copy and all, but I can’t deny the efficiency of being able to pass things back and forth electronically.
Now I’m fairly reliant on being able to write and edit like this, but I’m not a total convert. I frequently write with colleagues located in different physical locations than me, and for that it is critical to be able to pass text back and forth quickly- so electronic editing methods are a must. However, I still like to read the last versions of a manuscript on the printed copy and write notes in the margin. Why? I don’t know- I purposely go somewhere quiet and without a computer when I do this, so suppose it allows me to block out every other distraction, especially those on my computer. But I wonder, which is a better way for students to learn the process of writing, the red pen or track changes? By using track changes on manuscripts that my students write, am I doing what is easiest or most convenient for me- and not what is necessarily best for them to learn the process of writing? Do they really have to read as carefully as they would if I put it all down in pen- are they just selecting ‘accept all’ and not processing what I wrote to any significant extent?
Or does it depend on the student?