Thread: Promising practices

Didactic editing: a practice beneficial to both author and editor

Joy Burrough-Boenisch, Renkum, Netherlands

Background Reading through one's own text after it has been edited can be an educational experience for all authors, especially for those who are not English native speakers. By studying the editor's changes they hope to be able to avoid making certain learner errors in future; they might also activate some of their passive knowledge of English. As well as amending text, however, many editors already address comments to the author. Teachers of writing regularly do so when reading and correcting writing assignments. In this presentation I will argue that editors should consider applying this didactic practice more routinely, specifically to teach non-native English authors -“ whether novices or more practised writers. If done judiciously and tactfully, this can be done successfully, even though the editor lacks the authority of a teacher in a formal setting.

Purpose Teaching an author to write adequately (in the case of a novice) or better (in the case of a more practised author) need not be the only purpose of didactic editing, however. Another purpose could be to avert author rejection of a change which, if left unexplained, would not be understood. Examples will be given of both. I will also mention ways in which didactic editing adds value to the editor's work.

Solution and recommendations As the approach can be used to educate any non-native or novice writer, the emphasis will be on generic solutions and recommendations. Possible options will be described for the form of the comments (on the page or elsewhere) and their content (e.g. information about resources, or customised -œmini-lessons-). Additionally, I will mention the importance of attuning these and the language of the comments to the author's competence in English and the local mores.


Joy Burrough-Boenisch, based in the Netherlands, is an authors' editor and translator for Dutch academics and scientists; she also teaches scientific English to biomedical PhD students. This presentation draws on her chapter -œDidactic editing: bringing novice writers into the arena of scholarly publishing- in Supporting Research Writing: Roles and challenges in multilingual settings (edited by Valerie Matarese and due to be published by Chandos in 2012).