Why philosophical writing needs philosophical proofreading and copy editing.

It has been a while since my last update here at Flourishing Philosophy. I have had a steady stream of tutoring, proofreading, and other philosophical work. I have also just started my training as a counsellor. This is a new and exciting thing, with a lot of connections to my philosophical work, and I will certainly post some thoughts about that here at some point.

Today though, I want to say a little bit about what I do when read philosophical writing for clients.

You may have used a proofreading or copy editing services before. Typically a proofreader will check your work for errors in formatting, grammar, and spelling when it is close to its final form. A copy editor will check your material for grammar and spelling, but also for stylistic problems. There is a little more to it than that, and the distinction is not clear-cut, but that’s the basic gist of it. When I do work of this kind, I don’t make a rigid distinction between proofreading and copy editing, because each client’s requirements are individual. I calculate my rates according to how long it will take me to complete the work, and will sometimes factor in discounts based on the client’s individual circumstances.

So why would you choose to have your work read by someone who is a specialist in philosophy? There are any number of reasons for this, but I will mention three.

The first (and least interesting) is that I am likely to be familiar with technical terminology that you use. It might be important, for example, that your work is being read by someone who understands the difference between egoism and egotism, or between cynicism and scepticism.

The second reason is that philosophical audiences are particularly sensitive to ambiguities in language, and that this can sometimes make or break your writing. When I do basic proofreading, I won’t usually identify all the ambiguities that appear in a piece of writing, while I will do my best to check for any ambiguity or unclarity when copy editing (as I said, the difference is not clear-cut, and I can do as much or as little of this as required). However, even correcting grammatical errors can sometimes reveal these ambiguities: something as simple as the placement of punctuation can make a dramatic difference to the meaning of a sentence. A non-specialist reader will typically ‘correct’ this error to whatever feels right or looks most elegant on the page. When I encounter these cases, I take a little time to consider the range of possible alternatives and make several suggestions for how the sentence might be correctly worded and punctuated. This is obviously more useful than a process that results in you having to go back and correct all the corrections, but it does more than that: sometimes it can highlight important distinctions that can greatly improve the quality of your argument.

The third reason for using the services of someone who knows your discipline is perhaps the most contentious: style matters! I don’t just mean that it helps people to understand your words (although that is obviously true) but that a philosopher’s style of writing is not easily divorced from the substance of what they are saying. Many of my favourite philosophers create a whole conceptual landscape, and their writing invites you to enter their world and have a look around. Writing style, especially the use of metaphors and imagery, can open up new ways of seeing. One of the ways that I can help you is by trying to engage with your whole project, and helping you to convey your arguments in a way that will invite your audience into your conceptual world. For example, when you are talking about a concept or phenomenon, are you reaching for a general atmosphere that is more mechanical or more organic? Are you using the language of qualia, phenomena, appearances, or subjective experience? Often, terms that might superficially be taken as near-synonyms carry a rich set of associated images or historical connections. By using the services of someone who is experienced in philosophical teaching and research, you can more easily create the conceptual landscape that you need.

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