(Fogra 29_WF)Job:08-28858 Title:RP-Writing & Research for Graphic Designers
#175 Dtp:225 Page:36
018-055_28858.indd 36 8/30/12 4:42 PM
(Fogra 29_WF)Job:08-28858 Title:RP-Writing & Research for Graphic Designers
#175 Dtp:225 Page:37
018-055_28858.indd 37 8/30/12 4:42 PM
Writing & research for graphic designers
The editor’s role is not to scold, however. First and foremost
it is to prepare the text for general consumption—which means,
in part, taking out bad or mixed metaphors. The edited text
should be as clean as possible, absent all the common gram-
matical and spelling mistakes, but also written so that
the principal points are not buried under minor ones. It is the
editor’s responsibility to give your manuscript a good washing.
There are routinely a few editors that handle a manuscript
meant for publication. Usually the editor who assigned the
book, article, essay, or whatever gives it a once-over for
meaning and sense. She might raise relevant questions to sort
out confusion, or perhaps suggest that more information be
included to help illuminate the themes. Having more involve-
ment from this first line editor is all for the good because she
is presumably fluent with the subject. In the next stage, after
rewrites are made and queries are answered, the manuscript
should go to a copy editor. (Note: If your manuscript is not
sent to a copy editor, inquire why not. Not a single word
should be released without the copy editor’s seal of approval.)
The copy editor is more than a mechanic, responsible for
tuning under the hood: He is the guardian of the written word.
New writers cannot function without them; old writers have
learned to rely on them.
Armed with blue pencils, copy editors will cut through
tangled phrases and clauses, and insert em dashes, semicolons,
and colons where appropriate. Some will rewrite your garbles,
others will make suggestions, and still others will ask you
what you meant to say. Sometimes, making a manuscript
make sense is as simple as finding better words; other times
it demands restructuring many paragraphs—even an entire
essay. A good editor is to be listened to, although there is al-
ways room for argument. When I said my “In the beginning”
phrase was meant to be a cliché, with a wink and a nod to
the reader, my editor understood, tried to make it a little
better, yet decided to keep it in. After all, it is my book.
But more often, a skilled copy editor will hear discordant
and see misplaced words that are right in front of the writer’s
eyes yet invisible to him. The writer, even of a technical tract
or business exchange, is invested in the writing. The copy
editor is not. Sure, he wants the text to be as good as it
can be, but in an objective, more or less detached way.
A great copy editor is able to do invasive surgery without
leaving a scar. He will remove extraneous this and superfluous
that, making the flow of the prose smoother and more enjoyable.
If you never compare your original manuscript to the copy-
edited version, you will barely know the difference. Reading
the “playback” (which is what edited copy is sometimes
called), you cannot help but be self-satisfied; you will
doubtless say to yourself, “I’m a darn good writer, after
all.” In fact, the nuanced work was accomplished by the
copy editor—who almost never gets credit.
One last thing about the copy editor’s role: Reading so many
manuscripts requires that the copy editor fact-check. While
this job should not be left entirely to the copy editor, it
is good to know that someone is watching your back.
(Note: See Section Three to read “What an Editor Does.”)
Avoiding Clichés
When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims,
one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms,
like cuttlefish squirting out ink. —George Orwell
It is embarrassing the way that designers prostrate them-
selves—and the English language—especially in their
promotional material, describing in florid words what they
The copy editor is more than a mechanic, responsible for tuning
under the hood: He is the guarian of the written word.
(Fogra 29_WF)Job:08-28858 Title:RP-Writing & Research for Graphic Designers
09-C67944 #175 Dtp:225 Page:36
018-055_C67944.indd 36 9/22/12 11:25 AM
section 1
the three r’s : reading, writing, and research
do as though their designs alone aren’t enough to tell the
story. It may be true that some clients (or prospective clients)
don’t have a good grasp of what design is, but most have eyes
and can intuit. During the nascent period of graphic design
(somewhere around the mid-1920s), all that a commercial artist
advertising in one of the many promotional annuals had to
say was, “Jeanne Doe, calligraphy, layout, illustration,” and
the point was made (in part because the services were being
bought by agencies or art directors, not directly by clients).
Today, with nondesign clients being more active in the hiring
process, something called “design philosophy” has become the
basis of a new patois. Philosophy is not pejorative. But when
it turns to sophistry, beware!
For at least the past decade, designers have tried to position
themselves as legitimate professionals. Inherent in this quest
is an attempt to squelch the myth that visual people are
ostensibly illiterate. Where the myth started is anyone’s guess.
After all, the first, what one might call literate, people—those
who developed the earliest codified languages—were image
makers. The first alphabets were composed of images. Early
scripture was illuminated by scribes who made pictures as well
as words—the first typefaces were designed by artists. The
first books were designed by artist/writers. So, traditionally,
designers have been a very literate people. Then, where and
when did the distinction begin? Maybe it came with the onset
of commercial printing, when publicity was churned out, not
designed—when its makers began to provide a service, not
art. Not all commercial printers or commercial artists were
enemies of the word, yet the impact of those who were has had
a detrimental effect, ultimately leading in the early twentieth
century to the schism between copywriters and designers.
During the 1950s these distinctions in the advertising world
started to blur, but graphic designers were still suffering from
the effects of negative stereotypes. Ever since graphic designers
began adding terms such as marketing and communications to their
billheads, the accepted notion that having a codified philosophy
would undo those negative stereotypes has resulted in design
firms issuing promotional materials replete with weighty (and
sometimes dramatic) mission statements that read like either
legal briefs or epic poems, like this one:
Communications: Visual plays leading to emotional involvement.
Communications: Creativity at levels that make the experience.
Communications: Materials that desire to be collected for keeps.
Communications: Turn the target. Flip the crowd.
Communications: Translate the message into action to your advantage.
Communications: Manage the trains of thought and the rest will
come to you for yours.
Without any disrespect intended, is what you just read
substance or hype? Did it describe or confuse? Think about the
selling (flap or ad) copy on a book or the liner notes on a record.
In both cases the best of these titillate, if not illuminate. What
does this copy tell us? Visual plays? It is a rather strained meta-
phor. Emotional involvement? It is a lot to hope for from a piece
of paper. Collected for keeps? Hold on! Even the best publicity
has a limited shelf life. Manage the trains of thought? Hey, did
anyone copy-read this?
If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs
cannot be carried on to success. —Confucius
As hyperbolic as it is, the “visual plays” copy is at least
somewhat creative compared with the conventional fare. In-
deed, with few welcome exceptions when designers, especially
firms, extol their own virtues, the results are dry, platitudinous,
and repetitive, with buzzwords reminiscent of police accounts
like the ones one hears uttered on the TV news by rookie cops:
“The perp, a Caucasian female, was apprehended and subdued
by two pursuing, uniformed officers, while proceeding to gain
unlawful access to the abode of the victim . . . .”
To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but
a place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not
more wonderful than a parrot. —Joseph Conrad
Like cadets parroting the phrases in Jargon 101 at any police
academy, most designers learn—Lord knows from where—
that to gain respect in the outside world it is imperative to
use officious language they would never apply in everyday
part tWo : WrItIng
(Fogra 29_WF)Job:08-28858 Title:RP-Writing & Research for Graphic Designers
09-C67944 #175 Dtp:225 Page:37
018-055_C67944.indd 37 9/22/12 11:25 AM

Get Writing and Research for Graphic Designers now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.