Produk teenoor proses tydens akademiese redigering: Opmerkings as aanduiders van redigeergerigtheid

Amanda Lourens



Omdat die redigering van akademiese tekste in Suid-Afrika gekenmerk word deur ’n gebrek aan standaardisering, is ’n verkennende beskrywing van redigeerders se werklike aktiwiteite tydens die redigering van hierdie tekste ’n nodige stap in die rigting van die formulering van riglyne of standaarde vir die redigering van akademiese tekste (Kruger en Bevan-Dye 2010). Die huidige studie gebruik die onderskeid tussen die sogenaamde produk- en prosesbenadering tot redigering as uitgangspunt om werklike redigeerprodukte te ondersoek. Die produkgeoriënteerde benadering plaas die klem op die eindproduk, sonder dat dialoog met die skrywer noodsaaklik geag word. Dit staan teenoor die prosesgeoriënteerde benadering wat eerder fokus op die teksredigeerder se rol as fasiliteerder in ’n proses wat die student se betrokkenheid by sy/haar eie skryfproduk beklemtoon. Moderne woordverwerkingstegnologie bied die funksie van opmerkings (“comments”) as ’n ruimte waarin interaksie met die student as skrywer moontlik is en só die prosesbenadering sigbaar maak. Die huidige ondersoek het ten doel om redigeerders van akademiese tekste (tesisse of proefskrifte) se benutting van die opmerkingfunksie in MS Word te beskryf en om afleidings rakende die redigeerder(s) se benadering te maak. Drie geredigeerde tesisse word empiries ondersoek. Dit blyk dat opmerkings wel deurgaans benut word, alhoewel die drie tesisse nie in dieselfde mate blyke gee van ’n benutting van opmerkings nie. Alhoewel die gebruik van die opmerkings in die drie redigeerprojekte op ’n aanwesigheid van die prosesbenadering dui, word hierdie benadering nie suiwer toegepas nie. Die uitkomste van hierdie verkennende studie dui nie slegs die rigting aan vir toekomstige navorsing nie, maar dui ook aan dat toekomstige standaardiseringsprosesse veral moet besin oor die redigeerder se rol en professionele identiteit, asook die verhouding tussen studieleier, student en redigeerder. Die opleiding van redigeerders behoort ook die eise van akademiese redigering as ’n spesifieke soort redigering te hanteer. 

Product versus process during academic editing: Comments as indicators of editing orientation

Extended abstract

The need for academic editing indicates an international point of growth for the editing industry, as pointed out by Macdonald (2008). This statement is motivated by two trends: Students fail to meet the standards of academic writing required on a postgraduate level; also, many students have to write in English, although it is their second or even third language. Tertiary institutions have divergent guidelines for the editing of academic texts, leading to a worldwide lack of standardisation regarding the editing of these texts. Hence, the field of academic editing is in need of professional discourse, research and eventually greater levels of standardisation.

Valuable work on the standardisation of professional editing – including academic editing – has already been done by the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) (2010), the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) (2009) as well as the Council of Australian Societies of Editors (CASE) (2013). Law (2011) has made an important local contribution towards the establishment of core standards for the South African editing practice, but the development of South African standards for the editing of academic texts remains an area that is still in need of in-depth inquiry.

Based on professional discussions on academic editing, a few key areas for the South African discourse on academic editing come to the fore. These include: the matter of the standardisation of academic editing; the question whether editors can and should fulfil a developmental role regarding students’ writing skills; and the debate on where the borders of ethical academic editing are to be traced. The answers to these questions are closely related to perceptions of the editing task. Following the ideas set forth by Kruger and Bevan-Dye (2010) on the process- and product-oriented approach to editing, the editor’s perception of his or her task might be projected as situated on a continuum with respectively the process- and product-oriented approach as the two extremes. While a product-oriented approach focuses on the textual product without dialogue with the writers necessarily being taken into account, the process-oriented approach focuses on the role of the text editor as a facilitator in a process that emphasises students’ involvement in their own writing.

The study by Kruger and Bevan-Dye (2010) shows that South African editors identify with a product-oriented approach to their work, rather than a process-oriented approach. The authors, however, point out that perceptions are not always reliable indicators of practical outputs. Therefore Kruger and Bevan-Dye (2010) call for an investigation into what editors really do when editing academic texts – do their real-life actions reveal a process- or a product-oriented approach?

This call has given rise to the conceptualisation of a larger project that will investigate what actually happens during academic editing.  The current study investigates a component of this larger project and focuses on one activity during academic editing, namely the use of the comments function of word-processing programmes in order to communicate with the student. As a theoretical point of departure, the study draws on the ideas of Hill (2011) regarding editors’ problem solving activities. It is proposed that communication with the writer (in this case the student) by means of the electronic comments function of word processing programmes can be seen as an indicator of the editor’s acceptance of a process-oriented approach to the editing task. Although the IPEd guidelines for the editing of theses advise against electronic editing, the current study views electronic editing as a reality of the technology-driven modern world, and proposes that the editor’s approach to the editing task, rather than the medium, is crucial to determine whether there will be any learning gained by the student. The textual space of the comment is therefore, for the purposes of this study, viewed as a space that facilitates interaction between student and editor, so that a process-oriented approach to the editing task is realised in concrete terms whenever the editor chooses to insert a comment into a student’s text.

Accordingly, the following problem statement for the current study is put forward: How can the use of the comments function by editors of academic texts be described, and which conclusions regarding the editing approaches of the individual editors can be made?  

The following four research questions are presented in order to shape the study and to obtain specific results:

  1. Do editors use the comments function in MS Word
  2. Which types of textual problems do the comments address? To which extent are editors working in accordance with the international guidelines regarding the handling of these different types?
  3. What is the nature of the comments that are presented, i.e. are there different types of comments that can be distinguished?
  4. Which conclusions can be drawn regarding the editors’ orientation? 

The study follows an empirical methodology and three edited theses (all written in English in different departments at Stellenbosch University) are investigated with reference to the four research questions. Two theses were edited by private editors (both trained at Stellenbosch University) and one thesis was edited by the Language Service of Stellenbosch University. The validity and generalizability of the study is compromised by the fact that all three theses have ties with Stellenbosch University. Bias might also have been introduced by the fact that the three theses were chosen on the basis that they have been subjected to a comprehensive edit. Moreover, the many variables impacting on the example texts limit their comparability.

Regarding the question on the editors’ use of the comments function, it was found that the three editors of the example texts all make use of comments, as indicated by the results that vary between 0,11 and 3,16 comments per 300 words, with an arithmetic mean of 1,00 for Thesis 1, 1,91 for Thesis 2 and 0,24 for Thesis 3. The arithmetic mean for the three examples is 1,05 comments per 300 words, indicating that the comments function is used in the example texts.

Regarding the question on the categories of textual problems addressed by the comments, it is found that comments related to issues on the levels of copyediting (48,53%) and content (37,87%) occur most frequently. Comments related to structural (6,25%) and stylistic issues (5,88) are limited, while comments related to consistency issues are severely limited (1,47%). With regards to the international guidelines on the ethical handling of academic texts, it is found that the editors of Thesis 1 and Thesis 3 deviate from these guidelines by sometimes inserting additions themselves. The editor of Thesis 2 also deviates from the guidelines by asking questions on the level of content that belong to the domain of the supervisor.

The investigation on the nature of the comments shows that two main categories of comments are to be discerned, based on whether the editor has made a decision or not. These two categories can be subdivided into a total of 11 smaller groups. Comments that are not based on a decision by the editor and which leaves room for the student to engage with his/her own writing  are dominant (91,08% for Thesis 1, 100% for Thesis 2 and 55,87% for Thesis 3).

A qualitative analysis of the comments reveals that the editor of Thesis 1 formulated the comments in a way that facilitates the student’s own learning. The editor of Thesis 2 emphasizes technical aspects such as references, but also with the purpose of challenging the student to find the solution. The comments in Thesis 3 reveal a greater emphasis on the product than the other two edited theses.

In relation to editors’ choice of a process or product approach the findings indicate that all three editors are inclined towards a process-oriented approach based on the analysis of the comments, although a product-oriented approach is also observed, especially in Thesis 3. Further research may elucidate whether a hybrid approach in editing, as in Thesis 3, is regularly observed, and which factors may contribute to such an approach.  Further studies may also investigate whether specific editing activities are the result of the conscious adoption of a particular approach to editing.

The differences between the editors can be summarised as certain strategies that the individual editors employ during their editing work, making it possible to provide brief descriptions of the individual editing styles. The editor of Thesis 1 is found to have a supportive style, and the dominance of questions as comments shows that the editor strives to cultivate reflection by the student – thereby assuming a process-oriented approach.  The editor of Thesis 2 is shown to have a more direct, instructive style, as reflected by a preference for “simple comments”, meaning that the student has to interpret the comment before attempting to solve the problem independently. Once again, this editor follows a process-oriented approach. The editor of Thesis 3 displays a tentative style where the student is often cast in the role of reviser, as reflected by the strong presence of comments asking the student to approve a certain textual change – indicating the presence of a product-oriented approach. 

The outcomes of this exploratory study can be integrated into future work towards the standardization of academic editing in South Africa. Not only should such work incorporate a reflection on the role and professional identity of the editor, but it should also take account of the relationship between supervisor, student and editor. Lastly, the training of editors is implied in the sense that syllabi can be refined in order to train students for the specific requirements of academic editing.


Prosesbenadering tot redigering, produkbenadering tot redigering, redigeerstandaarde, woordverwerkingstegnologie, opmerkings

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