How editing contributes to a stronger democracy by Gael Spivak

You may think that being an editor for the federal government is boring. So staid: all those rules, all those bureaucrats.

It’s actually a lot of fun. The topics are interesting and I get to help a lot of people.

What kind of topics?

I’ve worked as a writer, editor, coordinator and communications advisor, in three government departments.

Topics I’ve worked in include food safety, food labelling, organic food, animal health, plant health, biotechnology, ethics and government, road salts, and flu. Lots of flu: seasonal flu, pandemic flu, avian flu and swine flu.

All that government-speak

Bureaucratic language is a problem in government. It’s not that it is technical or scientific language. It’s the government style and tone.

People pick this up when they first start working in government. Because they are smart and adaptable, they quickly start writing to match what they see around them.

But this kind of writing is unclear. The sentences have too many thoughts and the verbs are usually way at the end of the sentences.

The writing is also dense. Because many of the writers are policy people who’ve been examining issues for many years, they are experts. So they want to give a solid background when they write, not realizing that it’s too much information for a non-expert.

How does editing help?

As an editor, I build a bridge between the experts and their audience (often the public). I help the experts write more clear text, so that Canadians can understand what to do to be safe, to comply with legislation and to keep dangerous pests out of the country.

I also help people participate in their government, by making legislation, policies and decisions more understandable. Editing helps build a stronger democracy.

 

Gael Spivak works in communications for the federal government. She specializes in plain language writing and editing. Her Editors Canada work includes

  • membership chair for Editors Ottawa–Gatineau
  • co-chair of conference 2012
  • co-chair of conference 2015 (Editing Goes Global)
  • director of volunteer relations
  • director of training development
  • vice-president
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2 thoughts on “How editing contributes to a stronger democracy by Gael Spivak

  1. Gael, beautifully expressed! Your points on government-speak and how editing helps apply directly to much of the academic and medical editing that I do, but you’ve articulated them so well that I can now point clients to this post to help them understand what I do for them. Thank you!

  2. Exactly! Whenever I tell someone I’m an editor, they can only picture running some fashion magazine. They’re surprised when I correct that notion of editing and share that I’m equally excited to be a copy editor and proofreader!

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