Meet the Instructor: Ruth Wilson

Written by Carl Rosenberg; copy edited by Adrienne Munro

Photo of Ruth Wilson smiling while dressed in a dark blue jacket and light blue top and wearing a necklace.

On Saturday, October 27, Editors BC presents Ruth Wilson’s seminar on structural editing. At the end of the seminar, participants will know the following:

  • How to assess a manuscript to identify structural issues
  • How to use an outline to reveal structure
  • What questions to ask when analyzing problems
  • How to avoid over-editing and respect the writer’s work
  • How graphics and design can support structural editing decisions
  • Why diplomacy can be just as important as editorial skill
  • How to estimate how long editing will take

This seminar will help anyone wishing to advance their structural editing abilities, broaden their skills base, or study for the structural certification test offered by Editors Canada this fall. It will be most useful for participants who already have some experience and understanding of structural editing, although editors at all levels are welcome. All course materials will be supplied. See the registration page for more details.

Ruth Wilson has more than 30 years’ experience editing trade books, professional journals, association publications, and corporate materials at all levels. She first honed her structural editing skills working at Vancouver book publisher Self-Counsel Press, and since then, she has shared what she has learned, having taught substantive editing in SFU’s Writing and Communications program for 15 years, along with other skills-based courses.

Ruth is a partner in West Coast Editorial Associates and has served on several national committees of Editors Canada. In 2011, she was honoured by Editors Canada as a recipient of the President’s Award for Volunteer Service, and in 2014, she was recognized as a Certified Professional Editor (Hon.) for her work in developing and launching Editors Canada’s world-class certification program.

Carl Rosenberg, a volunteer on Editors BC’s communications and social media committee, spoke to Ruth about her work on structural editing.

Hello, Ruth! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. How did you come to develop and offer a seminar in structural editing?

I first taught structural editing when I inherited the SFU course on substantive editing that Nancy Flight and Ann Norman had been co-teaching. I taught that course for many years in a seven-week format, and later, I developed a seminar version. I learned a lot over those years about what editors find challenging in doing this level of editing.

What are a few of the main issues in structural editing?

Tackling a structural edit can be intimidating, even for experienced editors. Five different editors might approach the same manuscript five different ways, and their edits could all be well done. There is never just one right answer to how to do a structural edit. But that doesn’t mean you do anything you want or forget the fundamentals. You always have to consider your audience, the purpose of the publication, and the intent of the writer. With these aspects in mind, you can break any document into manageable editing steps.

Are the issues of diplomacy different for structural editing than for other kinds of editing?

There are no differences in how an editor should approach both manuscript and writer—with respect, courtesy, and professionalism. But because structural editing sometimes requires large-scale changes, editors need to know how to tactfully explain why such changes are needed and do that while honouring the writer’s intent. There aren’t generally rules (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style) you can use to defend or explain your approach, so you need to be confident in your author–editor discussions, but sensitive to the author’s reactions.

On a lighter note, what are some of your favourite books and publications—editing-related or otherwise?

I’m currently enjoying a stream of books that explore various aspects of music and the brain, most recently Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible by Alan Rusbridger (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013); Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music by Tim Falconer (House of Anansi Press, 2016); and Into The Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen (Scribner, 2017). The fiction I’m reading currently is The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George (English translation by Simon Pare, Broadway Books, 2015).

Ruth, thank you very much for sharing your experience and expertise. We’re looking forward to your seminar on October 27.


Carl Rosenberg edited “Outlook: Canada’s Progressive Jewish Magazine” from 1998 to 2016. He has a diploma in Latin American studies from Vancouver Community College and a bachelor of arts in Spanish language and literature from UBC. He has recently begun volunteering with the communications and social media and committee of Editors BC.

Adrienne Munro recently moved to the village of Canoe, BC, where she lives with her partner, Chris, and their new rescue Chihuahua, Raine. Adrienne is a researcher, writer, editor, gardener, paddler, and printmaker who loves sunshine and snail mail. She has an undergraduate degree in archaeology and plans to complete her MA in cultural and literary studies in 2019.

Photo provided by Ruth Wilson.

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