Crossing Cultural Lines: Copyediting in an Age of Globalization

January 9, 2016

With the outsourcing of writing and editorial services to countries located halfway around the world, a writer located in Bengaluru may be called upon to repurpose an article about an event happening in China; an editor in the Philippines might have to review website content authored in the United States; and a production editor in the United Kingdom might have to check the proofs of a book about medical tourism in Malaysia.

 

Editorial work is thus unique with respect to the kinds of demands it poses for its practitioners in this era of globalization. Staying current, well informed, and up-to-date is the main challenge facing today’s content and publishing professionals, and a broadening of one’s knowledge base is essential if one wants to succeed.

 

There is an urgent and pressing need for writers and editors to enhance their cultural literacy skills as also their knowledge of current affairs and English usage.

 

Copy editors, traditionally perceived as the guardians of the English language, are the ones at the front lines of rapidly changing linguistic conventions. Whether to use the spelling “al Qaeda” or “al-Qaida,” or to refer to “ISIS” or “ISIL”; when to use the word “that” and when to use “which”; keeping track of whether a word has become accepted in mainstream English usage or whether it is to be treated as a foreign word; verifying whether historical dates or names of important people (e.g., the president of a country) in the content being edited are accurate or not; all of these tasks fall within the scope of a copy editor’s role.

 

Debates have erupted over whether or not editors from a different culture can successfully meet the editorial standards of their counterparts in the West. When media groups in Asia, Europe, and the United States first started outsourcing editorial and reporting functions to India, the question of whether it was really possible to outsource functions that were embedded in a nation’s culture— functions such as copyediting—to another location halfway around the globe arose.

 

Take, for example, the perspective of Roy Peter Clark of Poynter: “Do Indians understand our culture? . . . Do they know who Eva Longoria got married to?”

 

He concludes: “While Indian editors may be very good at what they do, copy editors need to be part of the local fabric of the community to do their jobs well.” To put this another way: Would an American copy editor be able to copy edit an Indian newspaper or magazine?

 

Yes, or no? What do you think? Join the conversation and share your comments.

 

 

Meenakshi Venkat, from Houston, Texas, is a freelance copyeditor of humanities and social sciences academic books. She can be contacted at M.venkat.mfc@gmail.com.

 

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