Masterclass on Technical Editing with Devalina Mookerjee

Posted on Aug 19, 2015

It takes someone as competent and enthusiastic as Devalina Mookerjee to make seven days of academic and technical editing a stimulating and rewarding experience. This module had all the potential of being a boring one, full of dry academic texts and painstaking untangling of references, but Devalina turned it into a productive, informative and immensely useful series of sessions which we all enjoyed thoroughly. She believes that ‘A piece of text is infinitely perfect-able’ and showed us, in seven days, the practical and systematic way of doing that. It summed up much of what we’ve learnt at Seagull over the past two months and effectively dispelled any apprehensions we might have had.

One of the best things about Devalina’s classes was her hands-on approach. She brought in samples of different kinds of academic texts—literature, social sciences and management—to give us a taste of what editing in these different subject areas entails. In class, by way of assignments, we worked through these texts—fishing out coherent ideas from the marshes of convoluted writing, hunting down missing punctuation marks and stringing the components of the text together to form a comprehensive whole. As we went through the texts line by line and figure by figure, Devalina gave us little nuggets of wisdom gained from years of experience in this field which included keeping the target audience in mind, giving priority to coherence and cohesion, and to deal with tables and diagrams separately. She encouraged us to think about the issues in the text and come up with solutions on our own, however with the assurance that she was around to help us out when we got stuck.

We had a couple of theory classes interspersed with the practical sessions in which Devalina distilled all that we had inductively learnt into a set of general guidelines. She reminded us that academic and technical editing is different from editing in general because it relies heavily on accuracy; claims must be adequately supported by facts and figures. Among the many information in the theory classes, four points really stood out in light of the practical editing work we had done:

  • the importance of checking the validity of claims through data triangulation,

  • the need to remember that not everything interesting is relevant to the text,

  • the precedence that should be given to signposts and linkers, and finally,

  • the uncluttering of academic language when required.

Words, Devalina told us, are just ideas that are dressed up, and it is the editor’s responsibility to correctly identify the essence of the idea and present it in its simplest and most accessible form. There is no room for ambiguity in academic texts since clarity is the bottom line, and anything redundant, obscure or faulty has to be modified or removed.

Perhaps my favourite thing about Devalina’s classes was her willingness to listen to all our doubts and ideas, correct us when required and tell us very clearly but gently, exactly why she thought we were wrong. Though she did intimidate us at first with her stern instructions (she laughed when we told her this on the last day and confessed that she was just feeling her ground!), we quickly realized that she is extremely approachable, helpful and always ready to crack a joke or laugh at one of ours. Her enthusiasm and passion for what she does were evident and infectious, and we were left wanting for more.

Roopa Leonard
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