Literary washing and ironing delivers difficult prose wrinkle-free

December 1, 2005

Diagnostic Imaging rarely pulls the curtain from our inner editorial workings. But the retirement last month of Executive Editor Kathleen Lawrence deserves a spotlight. For almost two decades, Kathy rode herd on usage, brandishing a 30-page style sheet to root out incorrect spellings, inconsistencies, meandering meanings, and other infelicities, all in the name of readable copy.

Diagnostic Imaging rarely pulls the curtain from our inner editorial workings. But the retirement last month of Executive Editor Kathleen Lawrence deserves a spotlight. For almost two decades, Kathy rode herd on usage, brandishing a 30-page style sheet to root out incorrect spellings, inconsistencies, meandering meanings, and other infelicities, all in the name of readable copy.

Whether coping with physician authors who invariably deleted reference #3 after she had just edited a 60-reference article, sparking a renumbering nightmare, or subjecting careless staff writers to a friendly reminder that it's International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, not of, Kathy made sure that the magazine showed respect for its readers by weeding out distracting mistakes.

An old coworker once defined our job as "literary washing and ironing." Not glamorous, but without it, readers would have to plow through a lot of dirty socks and puzzling sentences. The nitpicky fixes we make are automatic-what really counts is clarity, especially in such technical copy. No reader pondering a difficult concept should have to wonder, What does "it" or "this" refer to? Our job is to ensure that the writing never obscures the meaning.

Typically, Kathy or I would divvy up DI stories to edit electronically. Then we'd switch, and the other pair of eyes would check the story on page proofs. Both of us delighted in spotting some howler the other had missed the first time. I'm glad Deborah Dakins, a seasoned writer and editor, is moving into Kathy's position and watching my back, so these lapses don't make it into print.

I hope Kathy reads my comment. She'll probably find something wrong with it.

Ms. Taylor is a copy editor for Diagnostic Imaging.