An American Editor

December 24, 2012

A Musical Interlude: Duets

Because this is a holiday week, and because I plan to relax and not write another blog post until the new year, I thought I would do another music video post.

One of the greatest musical art forms is the opera. The collaboration necessary to create a great opera — the collaboration of the composer and the librettist and of the singers/performers — reminds me of the collaboration necessary between an author and an editor.

I like to think that authors and editors are duetists — working together to create a masterpiece. I know I’ve suggested this before (see, e.g., Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process), and I have also stated that I consider “The Flower Duet” from Leo Delibes’ opera Lakme to be the finest opera duet ever written (yes, I know that many opera buffs would disagree, but that is the beauty of art — we can each be right). In this post, I thought I would highlight a few more great opera duets.

I begin with my favorite duetists, Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca, singing the “Bacarolle” from Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman.

Placido Domingo is one of the great opera tenors whose performances are considered the standard against which all other tenors are measured. In this video, he and Anna Netrebko perform Franz Lehar’s “Lips Stay Silent” (“Lippen Schweigen”) from The Merry Widow.

Renee Fleming and Cecilia Bartoli are two of the greatest soprano voices ever to hit the opera world. In this video, they sing “Sull’aria” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a well-loved opera. I’ve found that even young children like it, especially the “Papageno-Papagena” duet. In this Australian Opera version of the duet, Papageno (Andrew Jones) uses his magic bells to call for his future wife Papagena (Kiandra Howarth) so they can be together. Reunited they sing of the happy future they will have together.

Finally, I thought the following inspirational piece featuring 16-year-old Charlotte and 17-year-old Jonathan, performing on Britain’s Got Talent 2012, is worth watching.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

December 21, 2012

Worth Noting: Give a Little Love, Get a Little Love

Filed under: A Musical Interlude,Worth Noting — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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I think the title says it all — a video well worth watching with a positive message. Now if only more people, particularly politicians, would take the message to heart.

December 19, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the Twinkie Defense

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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Not every editing job goes smoothly. Occasionally, I find that I think I did an outstanding job only to hear from the client about the problems the client discovered. Of course, I always fix my errors at no charge, so that is not a problem, but I have several times defended my lapse by saying I must have eaten one Twinkie too many while editing the book.

Now I can no longer claim the Twinkie defense with the end of Twinkie production as a result of Hostess Baking going out of business.

For younger editors, I suspect that Twinkies are an unknown quantity. They are simply angel food cake wrapped around a creme filling that is loaded with sugar. Twinkies are the original sugar high for baby boomers. Like most “miscreants” I simply grasped at any defense as a way to justify my actions (in this case, lack of doing what the client expected), and so it was the Twinkie defense.

It is well known that sugar highs cause people to do strange, weird things. What could be weirder than a topnotch editor like myself missing what should have been an obvious error? Alas, I will now have to own up, I’ll have to confess to misjudgment. Definitely not a good thing to do.

At the same time, I will cry over my grandchildren not being able to defend their misbehavior using the Twinkie defense. I was already prepping my granddaughter by whispering, when her parents’ backs were turned, “Twinkie, Twinkie” — and if caught, I could easily respond that I was saying “twinkle, twinkle” as in “twinkle, twinkle, little star.” But no more. Now my grandchildren will be defenseless and have to face the dire consequences without a good defense.

The Twinkie was the ideal vehicle for excessive sugar ingestion. The Twinkie defense was also the best defense against a lot of misdeeds. Alas, the time has come to say a final goodbye to Twinkies and my Twinkie defense –

Goodbye!

December 17, 2012

The Business of Editing: One Price Doesn’t Fit All

Questions have risen, yet again, regarding pricing. Not how much, but whether to post prices on websites and whether to accept a “long-term” contract that sets a standard price for all editing services.

Of course, there is disagreement among editors on both questions.

I think it is a bad idea to post prices. The primary reason is that no two people agree as to what services are included under the rubric of, for example, copyediting, and what services are excluded. There are nearly as many definitions of copyediting as there are copyeditors, or so it seems.

Just as each manuscript is unique, so are the services that each manuscript needs different. By posting a price, you may turn away business that you might otherwise get if you had the opportunity to discuss what services are wanted and that you provide.

Not posting prices gives you an opportunity to interact with a prospective client. What editors do is personal; that is, it is not selling widgets but selling a very personalized service on a one-to-one basis. Consequently, price is only one element of the decision whether to hire or fire an editor (or client); a significant element is how well personalities mesh — are the editor and the client on the same wavelength?

Posted prices lock you into a set scheme. If you post that you charge $30 an hour for copyediting services, it doesn’t matter that the price includes, for example, fact checking. All the prospective client sees is the price you posted and that a competitor editor has posted copyediting services for $20 an hour. You lose the opportunity to demonstrate to the prospect the superiority or comprehensiveness of your services or your experience.

It also means that if you do take on the client and the project really should have been priced at $40 an hour, you are locked into the $30 an hour price. Yes, I know you can include a clause in your contract that allows for adjusting the price. But is that really the reputation you want — one of a bait and switcher?

Accepting a “long-term” contract that sets a standard rate for all editing services is, I think, a different matter. I have had this debate with myself in the past and have consistently ended up on the side of accepting the contract in exchange for steady work. We tangentially discussed this in The Business of Editing: Best Price “Bids”.

Perhaps the worst feeling I have had in 29 years of freelance editing occurred in slack times, those periods between jobs when I would wonder whether more work would be forthcoming. After experiencing slack times a couple of times in my early years, I decided it was better to earn less money when working but be always busy than to earn more money when working but not always be working.

Consequently, I did two things. First, I made an effort to figure out how to be more efficient and productive so that I could accept a lower pay scale yet earn the hourly rate I wanted. Second, I resolved to try to find clients who were interested in a long-term relationship in which they would keep me busy and I would accept the work for a fixed rate. I have been successful at both these endeavors.

But I did learn early on the important lesson that one price doesn’t fit all clients. Even though I may offer a client a single set price for all the work they send my way, I do not offer every client that same price. The reason is the same as for why I do not post prices at my website: The work that each client wants is different and the complexity — on average — of their projects differs, sometimes greatly.

For example, some clients do not want editors to check or style references; they just want the editor to make sure that all the pertinent information is present. Other clients want the editor to not only style the references but to check the references and to find and supply any missing material. Reference work for the former group of clients might take minutes whereas for the latter group, it could take hours.

I know that some editors are thinking that setting a single price for a client can be dangerous because some projects are more difficult than others. (This is also the argument that some editors use to justify sticking with an hourly rate rather than going to a per-page or project rate.) Yes, that is true, which is why I apply my Rule of Three (see The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three). My experience has been that few projects over the course of time are money losers; most are money makers if handled properly.

The keys are pretty simple: First, don’t box yourself in by posting prices on your website unless you intend to minutely detail exactly what services are included and excluded for that price. Second, consider, if you are working with publishers and packagers, trying to work out a long-term deal in which you offer set services for a lower price in exchange for a steady stream of work. Third, spend time trying to figure out how to streamline your editing and implementing the procedures you discover. Remember that the more you can automate, the more you can earn, especially if you work on a per-page or project fee basis.

One last thing. I have been asked whether my advice not to post prices still holds if one posted a minimum price, for example, “copyediting from $30 an hour.” My answer is yes. If someone had a very simple project but is only willing to pay $25 an hour, posting your minimum price would eliminate you from consideration, even though you would jump at the opportunity to take on the project were it offered.

An editor’s mantra must be that just as each author’s book differs from books in the same genre written by other authors, so do editing services differ based on the editor and the project, which means that pricing differs — one price doesn’t fit all!

A Must Read in Light of Newtown

Filed under: Articles Worth Reading — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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The following blog article is a must read in light of the recent Newtown, Connecticut massacre. I urge everyone to read this mother’s story:

http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/2012/12/thinking-unthinkable.html

December 14, 2012

Worth Noting: Landfill Harmonic

I find that having grown up in a rich nation like the United States, I do not always appreciate the extent of the poverty that is found in the world. More importantly, I find that I have neither an appreciation nor understanding of how less-fortunate people deal with poverty. Although I clearly know better now, it wasn’t until I was in my teen years that I knew there were people who did not have indoor plumbing and children who did not eat three healthy meals a day. I thought everyone lived as I lived.

I had my wake-up call when I traveled through America’s Mississippi Delta region in the early 1960s. It was as if I had left America and entered a new, strange, foreign land.

Because I think we all need reminders that there are people, including children, who are not as fortunate as ourselves yet who do amazing things to improve their lives and to become productive citizens of their countries that I try to promote videos such as the following. I find it amazing how these children and their teacher have overcome at least one obstacle in their education. I hope you find their story as inspirational as I do.

December 12, 2012

The Business of Editing: Burning Bridges

A few weeks ago I watched a video of The International (2009), which stars Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. It was an okay movie, nothing great, but Clive Owen’s character made a very profound statement:

Sometimes in life the hardest thing to know is which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn.

Sometimes in editing the hardest thing to know is which bridge to cross and which to burn.

The issue comes up in at least three ways in editing: first, is the non- or slow-paying client; the second is the client from at least one, if not more, level of hell; the third is in deciding whether to fight or pass on a contentious issue with an author. This article discusses the first two issues and leaves the third for another day.

For those who deal directly with authors and expect to be paid directly by authors, I think the problem of burning the bridge is less traumatic. For the editor who works with publishers and packagers who send multiple titles to them for editing, the problem can be very traumatic. Yet, this is a problem that all small businesses have to face and deal with.

The first question an editor needs to ask is this: What are my lines in the sand, the things beyond which I will not ever tolerate? This is important because if you do not have expressible lines in the sands, you will not know against what criteria to evaluate the errant client.

For example, if your invoices are payable within 30 days, how much past that 30-day due date are you comfortable waiting for payment? If you know that a client will pay promptly on day 45, is that acceptable or are you adamant that you must be paid within 30 days? If you know that a client will pay promptly on day 60, are you willing to wait 60 days for payment? What if you do not know on what day a client will promptly pay? How long are you willing to wait?

Every editor needs to establish those criteria, those lines in the sand that will trigger a reaction. You must know, just like all businesses must know, what is and is not acceptable behavior from a client.

The second question that needs to be asked is: What am I willing to do should that line in the sand be crossed? Are you willing to tell an author that you are claiming a copyright interest in the edits you made to the author’s manuscript (not to the original, unedited manuscript)? Are you willing to tell publisher X that you claim a copyright interest that can be discharged upon payment in full of your outstanding invoices? And if you are willing to make such a claim, are you willing to fight for that claim or is it just bluff and bluster?

You need to know exactly what you are willing to do to enforce your lines in the sand, because what you are willing to do by means of enforcement dictates what lines you are really willing to draw in the sand. If you are not willing to stand up for a copyright interest claim, why make the claim?

The third question that needs to be asked is this: If I enforce my claim, what will be the short-term and long-term consequences of doing so? This is important because it forces you to think about the consequences of any action you may take, which gives you the means to weigh your options and be sure that you are comfortable with them.

The fourth question that needs to be asked is this: If I fire client X, what effect will this have on my future income? I do not mean the very short-term future, but rather the long-term future. If I fire the individual author, will that cause me to lose the business of other authors? I know that if I fire publisher X, I will no longer receive work from X, so in this instance the effect is pretty easy to determine.

But the willingness to fire a client and live with the consequences is key to being a business. What good is it to be in a business that causes you heartburn on a daily basis? We all know that a client from hell can cause such distress that it affects both other business and personal time. How many times have you been grumpy with a spouse because you have been exasperated with a problem client?

Throughout the course of my 29 years of editing, I have run into authors I would like to shoot and publishers/packagers who had chips on their shoulder that were more like boulders than chips. I long ago decided that it was better to fire a client and lose the prospect of future work than to deal with constant problems and be curt with my family.

I recall a client who sent me a large volume of work every year (approximately $50,000 to $60,000 worth every year). In the beginning they were a good client to work with, even though they were parsimonious with the fees. About my fourth or fifth year of working with them, they changed production directors. Previously, if they had a rush project, they would be willing to pay a premium fee (we are talking about editing projects of 1500+ manuscript pages). The new director felt that I should consider myself blessed to have their work.

I finished a project, unhappy that I had undertaken the project but glad that it was over, about a month prior when I received an e-mail from the director saying a new chapter had arrived and they wanted me to edit it within two days. This was my line in the sand. I replied that I could not get to the chapter for two weeks as I was in the midst of a project for someone else. I could do it over the weekend, however, for a premium price, as I do not usually work on weekends. What I got back was an e-mail demanding that I set aside other work and tackle this chapter; what I replied was: “I write with great pleasure: You are fired! Please do not call me again.”

Although I lost a lot of revenue, I felt greatly relieved to be rid of what had turned into a client from hell. My point is this: You must know and accept the limits of your tolerance of clients. And you must be willing to act on those limits. Firing/losing a client is not the end; it just means you need to take steps to replace the client with a better client, which is what being a business is about. Sometimes it is better to burn a bad bridge than to cross it!

December 10, 2012

The Decline and Fall of the American Editor

In past articles, I have bemoaned the decline in language skills that I see in many younger editors and in authors. My bemoaning was revitalized by an article in the December 1, 2012 issue of The Economist (“Higher Education: Not What It Used to Be,” pp. 29-30), which said:

For example, a federal survey showed that the literacy of college-educated citizens declined between 1992 and 2003. Only a quarter were deemed proficient, defined as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and toi develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Almost a third of students these days do not take any courses that involve more than 40 pages of reading over an entire term. Moreover, students are spending measurably less time studying and more on recreation. “Workload management,” however, is studied with enthusiasm–students share online tips about “blow off” classes (those which can be avoided with no damage to grades) and which teachers are easiest going.

(Emphasis supplied.) Only 25% of college-educated U.S. citizens are literate! How depressing is that? The article went on to note that “[a] remarkable 43% of all grades at four-year universities are As, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960,” which means that students are being rewarded for being illiterate. Makes me wonder if their professors are literate.

Unfortunately, a confluence of many factors is resulting in the dumbing down of the editorial and authorial classes in America. The decline in newspaper readership is but one symptom of this decline. It is not enough to say that readers are getting the same information from sources other than newspapers, unless you can also say that the information that is contained in a multipage newspaper article is equally comprehensively conveyed by a 140-character twit.

Discussions that I used to have about current events with neighbors have hit a dividing line. Those of my generation still engage in detailed discussions regarding topics of local interest and are informed about those topics; those of the younger generation can only discuss, at most, the headline.

eBooks are both a blessing and a curse as regards promotion of literacy. That anyone who has access to a keyboard can suddenly become an author is a curse; that readers pick up and read a lot of the produced drivel is a curse; that these same readers and authors do not recognize the difference between, for example, your and you’re is a curse; that readers are more interested in being distracted from reading than from actually reading is a curse.

On the other hand, ebooks make material to read more accessible to more people at a lower cost, definitely a blessing. In addition, because ereaders offer such things as instant dictionary access and online access to websites like Wikipedia where more information is available about a topic, ebooks can be viewed as spreaders of knowledge, which is also a blessing.

Alas, for the blessings to truly be blessings, the reader has to be open to taking advantage of them. With the trend of using nondedicated ereaders to read ebooks, however, combined with the trend to read only a very few ebooks during the course of a year, it is difficult to get the blessings to outweigh the curses.

The more insidious trend that ebooks promote is the acceptance of incorrect language use. The more often a child sees “while your driving the car,” the more ingrained it will become that your is correct. The fewer authors who hire qualified professional editors to fix grammar errors, the more standard becomes the misuse of language and the more such misuse is learned and accepted.

Compounding the problem is the discouragement qualified professional editors receive from authors and publishers. There is no reward, only punishment, for being a qualified professional editor in today’s market. The punishment is on several levels. On the most basic level, it is the downbeating of pricing. Authors and publishers rarely accept the pricing that a professional editor would charge were the editor’s services valued. Rather, the mantra is lower pricing. And to force the market to lower pricing, authors and publishers too often search the Internet for best pricing, rather than best editing.

The consequence of this downbeating of pricing is that those of the younger generations with the requisite language skills to provide topnotch editorial services do not enter the profession, or do so in a very limited way. That means that the ranks of editors are being filled by those who lack proficiency in the very skills they seek to provide. When an author whose ebooks is riddled with homophonic errors tells me that the ebook has very few such errors because they paid to have the book edited, it tells me that both the author and the editor lack necessary and fundamental language skills and that neither can recognize that lack, so both accept substandard work as standard. If you are a young learner and are subject to reading hundreds of such substandard books, you soon begin to believe that they are correct and replicate the errors in your own writing.

If you do not think repeat exposure to erroneous language use will lead to that erroneous use becoming accepted as correct, look no further than the argument regarding the age of Earth (6,000 years of age vs. millions of years of age). Or consider how advertising works (repeat exposure to a message is designed to get a viewer to believe the message’s verity; this is most clear when looking at political advertising).

The illiteracy noted by The Economist above bodes ill for American editors becoming or remaining a valued profession. It is difficult to uphold high values when you cannot recognize high values. When America’s most educated class — its university graduates — are reading challenged and language challenged/deficient, how much expectation can there be for the proficiency of those not in that “educated” class? (And think about those of the “educated” class who become the teachers of our children. Considering where most teachers are in class standing at university, how likely is it that your child’s teacher will be one of the literate 25%?) Considering that professional editors today generally come from the university-educated class of workers, how likely is it that the literacy level demanded of the printed word a few decades ago will survive to future decades? When the income levels of qualified professional editors are in a state of perpetual decline and when authors increasingly avoid using qualified professional editors, preferring to self-edit or to have “beta” readers provide the editorial review, how likely is it that the high editorial standards of past decades will carry forward to future decades?

Will we soon be reading The Decline and Fall of the American Editor in twittese? What do you think? Are you concerned?

December 5, 2012

On Books: Gatekeeping eBooks

Filed under: On Books — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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In pre-ebook days, gatekeeping was done by the traditional publishers; today, with the rise of ebooks, especially self-published ebooks, it is the reader who is responsible for doing his or her own gatekeeping. The problem is how to do it. All of the traditional tools are still available with the exception of the traditional publisher’s staff. Some of the tools are less valid, today, such as “customer” reviews than they once were, but even the less-valid tools offer some guidance. For me, I’ve added one tool to my armory: dreams.

I know it sounds silly, but I realized that dreams are a result of some environmental stimulus — good or bad. They don’t just happen in a vacuum; something happened during waking hours that has stimulated my imagination. Consequently, I have realized that one of the ways I distinguish between an ebook worth mentioning to friends and an ebook I hope to never hear of again, is dreaming.

A quality read is one in which the characters are stimulating, are “real,” are “people” I want to know better, who have adventures I want to share. A second attribute of a quality read is that these characters are participants in a well-told story within which I, the reader, want to participate myself.

I am setting aside the usual problems of which I complain, such as poor grammar and rampant misspellings. I admit that I have read several ebooks recently where grammar and misspellings were annoying but the characters and story were such that I was willing to overlook the problems. Such books war with me: Do I recommend them to friends or not? For the most part, I decide to not recommend them because the problems are too overwhelming, too distracting.

It is these authors and ebooks for whom I feel most sorry. It is clear to me that they failed to invest in their book after they completed the manuscript, or if they did invest, they did not invest wisely. Yet, they clearly have a topnotch tale to tell. A good example of this paradox is Franz McLaren’s Clarion of Destiny series, which I reviewed in On Books: The Agony of Reading Franz McLaren’s Clarion of Destiny.

But I digress. Great characters and a great story are all-important when it comes to writing. A grammatically perfect manuscript is of little value if the story and characters aren’t compelling and grabbing. Thus my dreaming as gatekeeping.

I know I have hit the motherlode of characterization and storyline when I dream about a book I am reading. When in my dreams I try to anticipate the plotline, when I try to play matchmaker among the characters, when I take the characters on a new adventure that I think naturally evolves from the author’s storyline, I know that I have found an ebook that rises from the slush pile.

What I have come to realize is that dreaming is my gatekeeper when it comes to fiction ebooks. (I read nonfiction books for different purposes than I read fiction and thus do not find myself dreaming about the nonfiction books I read.) I realized in recent months that if I am not dreaming about an ebook’s characters or story, I am generally not satisfied with the ebook — whether it be because the characters are not well-formed, the story is plodding, or there are so many errors that I can’t focus on anything but the errors — and so delete the ebook without completing it.

The ebooks I read from beginning to end are those about which I dream favorably. Like most readers, I recognize that there are many more ebooks available for me to read than there are hours left in my life in which to read them, so why waste time on ebooks that cannot evoke a positive dream?

Interestingly, I also realized that there are levels of intensity to my dreams, by which I mean that some ebooks evoke a fleeting dream, a dream that is enough for me to finish the ebook I am reading but not intense enough to induce me to read more ebooks by the same author. My reading habits are such that if I find myself enthusing over an ebook, as soon as I am finished with it, I rush to buy and read the remaining ebooks available by the author. Good examples of such authors are Shayne Parkinson and Vicki Tyley, both of whose ebooks I have reviewed here multiple times.

The hard part for authors is figuring out how to capture that enthusiasm, how to encourage the dreaming. Alas, there is no easy formula for doing so. It is clear to me that there is something more needed than fundamental writing skills. This is obvious when I note how I treasure books by certain authors but not books by other authors. It is also clear to me that good characterization and storyline can only go so far; disinterested professional help is also needed. (Perhaps an editor should be viewed as being a psychologist for a book in the sense that a disinterested professional editorial perspective can help an author surmount problems that might otherwise not be surmounted or even identified.)

At least for the foreseeable future I have my own built-in ultimate gatekeeper. As long as I continue to find ebooks that encourage positive dreaming, I will be a happy reader.

December 3, 2012

On Language: That Is, For Example

A common failing among authors and editors is the incorrect use of i.e. and e.g., that is and for example, respectively.

Consider this example: “When I apply color (i.e., cobalt blue), the sky seems wrong.” I see hundreds of examples of this use in my editing work and wonder what exactly does the author mean. It should be obvious and clear what is meant, but if you think about it, the sentence is as clear as mud.

In fact, I have a standard query to the author that I use when I see misuse of i.e., which query is:

AQ: Do you mean e.g. rather than i.e.? When the items are only examples and the list is not all inclusive, e.g. is used. If the listed items are all the possibilities, then i.e. is used. If i.e., is correct, consider removing material from parens and making it a proper part of the sentence.

(I use EditTools’ Insert Query macro to insert standard queries into a manuscript without having to rewrite them each time. I currently have a number of “standard” author/editor/compositor queries preformulated, one of the ways I increase my efficiency. The Insert Query macro was discussed earlier on American Editor in The Business of Editing: Author Queries.)

Often this query is ignored, because the author doesn’t really understand the implications of the choice between i.e. and e.g., and because authors generally don’t want to rewrite what they consider near perfect, if not perfect.

In the example, does the author mean “When I apply the color cobalt blue, the sky seems wrong,” or does the author mean “When I apply a color such as cobalt blue, the sky seems wrong,”  or does the author mean “When I apply a color, for example, cobalt blue or pale pink, the sky seems wrong”? Is cobalt blue the color under discussion or just an example of several colors under discussion?

That’s right; the difference between i.e. and e.g. is the difference between a limited, definable number and many. Yet many authors and editors fail to distinguish between them or to consider that there may be some difference in meaning. That is (i.e.) is limiting whereas for example (e.g.) is expansive. Although authors use them interchangeably, they are not interchangeable.

Another way to distinguish between the two phrases is to view i.e. as a phrase to introduce a clarification of preceding text whereas e.g. introduces representative, but not exclusive, examples. Yet, again, the matter comes down to the basic thrust of grammar — to make words meaningful and comprehensible.

Of equal importance is the question whether i.e. should ever be used in the main text (as opposed to, e.g., in footnotes and sidebars). For the most part, I encourage authors to rewrite their sentences to eliminate the parenthetical i.e. because doing so can only lead to greater clarity. I confess that many of my colleagues disagree with my view, but I fail to see what is gained by using i.e. in the primary text.

Because i.e. acts as a limit — there are only these and no more — it is easy to rewrite the sentence. I can as easily write “When I apply the color cobalt blue, the sky seems wrong,” or “When I apply the colors cobalt blue and pale pink, the sky seems wrong,” as I can write “When I apply color (i.e., cobalt blue), the sky seems wrong,” or “When I apply color (i.e., cobalt blue and pale pink), the sky seems wrong.” And when I rewrite the sentence there is no doubt about what I mean.

The clarity that is garnered by rewriting is important to reader understanding. Consider a medical text in which the author uses the parenthetical i.e. Some readers will interpret it as meaning only the items listed in the parenthetical, whereas others will construe the items as examples of which there are many yet to be named. If the latter is correct, the readers who apply the former interpretation will have misconstrued the sentence and missed important knowledge. Similarly, if the former is correct, those who made the latter interpretation will also misconstrue the sentence and think that the information applies more broadly than it does.

Just as it is important to note that the parenthetical i.e. is often used incorrectly, it is important to note that there are times when its use is very appropriate. As with everything else, it all depends on context. A professional editor needs to think about every i.e. and query each one that is questionable. An author needs to think about why he or she is using i.e. instead of merging the information into the primary text where it belongs. (As you may recall, this is also my view regarding the misuse of footnotes and endnotes, which was discussed on An American Editor in Footnotes, Endnotes, & References: Uses & Abuses.) Readers need to stop and think about every i.e. and what it really means in the context.

Editors and authors need to apply the basic rules of grammar — is the meaning clear and understandable or does interpretation, especially reader interpretation, play a role — when deciding to use the parenthetical i.e. But above all, editors and authors need to make sure that i.e. and e.g. are being used properly, the former for the limited (that is), the latter for the many (for example).

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