Editors BC: Stylistic Study Group

Written by Janis Cleugh; copy edited by Meagan Kus

The email came at the right time.

In August, Editors BC invited members to be part of a study group to prepare for the stylistic editing certification exam—only three months away. Eager to pass one test, having been unsuccessful with the structural and proofreading exams a dozen years earlier, I signed up for the sessions.

Led by Roma Ilnyckyj, the 90-minute Zoom meetings ran each Thursday night from September 3 to November 12 with three other professional editors. Only two of us, however, took the exam.

Luckily, our study group clicked from the start.

After introductions, we launched into our first of 11 very labour-intensive weeks. We began by reading a section of the Stylistic Editing: Meeting Professional Editorial Standards, emphasizing the need not to tread on structural or copy editors’ toes. We merely had to clarify meaning, smooth language, ensure the appropriate audience level, and check the artwork.

Easy enough, I thought. And then the assignments began.

We started with a warm-up exercise to fix the stylistic flaws of 25 sentences or paragraphs. Using the answer key, we talked at length about grammar and syntax, and how each of our versions could improve flow. We didn’t have time to finish our chat that night, but our enthusiasm for language kept us strong as we marched through the next challenges:

  • organizing a campaign speech
  • wading through legal jargon
  • pointing out insensitive wording
  • loosening up academic prose
  • adjusting for age-appropriate readers
  • preparing government documents
  • presenting copy for the web

Every week I would set aside about 12 to 15 hours to tackle an assignment, complete the readings, and pore over grammar books. When it came time for our group to re-connect, I felt I had absorbed the material enough to defend my work and study how the other participants edited their assignments. Being a Mac user, I also had to learn—quite quickly—how to operate Microsoft Word and Track Changes, which are used on the stylistic exam.

Still, a big sticking point with our study group was the Stylistic Editing Test Preparation Guide, which we felt was, for the most part, outdated. Another hurdle for us were the instructions. We became increasingly frustrated with the assignment key as we believed the guide editors didn’t stay in their lane: structural and copy edits were made to their answers, query bubbles weren’t always clear, and, in many cases, new information magically appeared in the corrected document.

The practice test helped to calm my nerves, though. We set aside three hours to answer the two parts—the first of which included the new addendum to the 2017 Test Preparation Guide. In the past, Part A had a variety of questions: multiple choice, short answer, fill-in-the-blank, etc.; however, this year’s exam cohort was the first to do the revision that had multiple-choice and matching questions only. This allowed for a faster run-through than expected, and more time for Part B. 

For our final session, our study group devoted two full hours. We came to class with Part A already marked and discussed, in general, other important points:

  • the need to read the instructions clearly
  • the level of intervention by an editor
  • production processes

For Part B, we dissected “Opera in a Matchbox,” a newspaper article by a lively theatre-lover. We spoke about tone, wordiness, placement, redundancies, inappropriate evaluations, and foreign language. Mostly, we reminded ourselves to use a light touch for stylistic edits, identify problems, and maintain the author’s voice.

The day before the exam, I received a kind email from Roma. And although the test was held under difficult circumstances—during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic—and I was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar equipment, I felt I had a solid foundation. I can’t reveal what was on the exam, but I can tell you that the study group provided a sense of purpose during a difficult period for me personally and professionally.

Every week I looked forward to exchanging ideas about plain language and writing styles. I enjoyed the connection with other editors around BC who were facing similar questions about their craft, and who were also trying to figure out how to move forward in a digital world. If editors have the time available and want a boost before their certification exam, I would highly recommend an Editors BC study group.

Janis Cleugh is a senior reporter, copy editor, and proofreader at the Tri-City News, in Port Coquitlam. She also has a freelance editing business called Teacher’s Pet. Janis has SFU Continuing Studies certificates in editing, publishing, and business writing, public relations and marketing communication. Trained in England under the National Council for the Training of Journalists, Janis has won fellowships with the Jack Webster Foundation and the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office. In her spare time, she manages the social media accounts for ScotFestBC and Steve Henry Photography.

Meagan Kus is a freelance copy editor and proofreader with a 20-year background in arts administration.

Image by Editors Canada. Editors Canada Professional Certification, Illustration of gold badge and ribbon with Editors Canada logo (Yulia Kireeva ©

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