When I became an editor, I believed my job would mainly be spent in the study of right and wrong. Style guides and dictionaries in one hand, red pen clutched in the other, I was ready to supply grammatical and syntactical improvements. And yet, when I moved from the US to Japan and began working with Japanese companies that were writing for western audiences, I found myself spending most of my time wading through the world of subjective edits.
When editing across cultures, it becomes so much more complex than words on a page. The once-clear rules of grammar and punctuation become blurred as you switch from one version of English to another. Voice, tone, scope, and word choice are ever shifting as you consider the cultural backgrounds of both the author and the audience. How do you decide how heavy-handed to be? How do you help the author maintain the integrity of their piece while making it digestible for a foreign audience?
Unfortunately, there is no correct answer. While we can find some guidance in published literature, it is ultimately up to international editors to help the author find a successful balance for their work. For me, I’ve found that beginning with a few small things can go a long way.
1. Begin with mechanics
Does the audience use the metric system or the imperial system? American or British spelling? Adjusting the mechanics of the piece to the viewpoint of the audience can improve readability and help the author more easily connect to the intended audience.
2. Consider general knowledge
Most authors write from the standpoint of their own society’s knowledge base. The challenge is that the general knowledge of each culture is different. For example, an author may need to specify that Sir Don Bradman was an Australian cricket player when writing for American audiences or that Russell Wilson is an American football player when addressing Australian audiences. Japanese audiences will likely understand the date range of the Edo period but not that of the Irish Civil War. Helping an author bridge these knowledge gaps is essential when editing on the international level.
3. Address the goals of the author and the audience
The goals of both the author and the audience will change from piece to piece. Understanding the goals of both parties will help us successfully navigate the editing process. Is the author intending to write a text that introduces their unique cultural outlook and challenges the reader, or are they aiming to create a narrative that blends seamlessly with the audience’s worldview? Likewise, is the audience intending to learn more about a new culture or are they looking for something closer to their comfort zone?
4. Verify inclusive language
As editors, we are constantly on the lookout to avoid non-inclusive language. However, when editing internationally, we must also understand how the definition of inclusive language changes from country to country. It’s vital that we understand our audience’s inclusivity guidelines so that we can help the author avoid any unintended offenses.
As globalization continues to pull our world closer together, it becomes increasingly important for editors to be able to edit across countries and cultures. While there aren’t always clear-cut answers for this line of editing, the more we editors are able to discuss our choices, the more we can work together to ensure we are providing authors with the best edits possible.
Blog post by: Taylor Steed