With an eye for detail
With an eye for detail
A volunteer’s perspective on punctuation and grammar
One of the imprints Pariyatti publishes under is BPE (BPS Pariyatti Editions). We republish classic Theravāda titles by the Buddhist Publication Society (Sri Lanka), meeting current western printing standards. The BPE Pariyatti Editions are quality prints with an ergonomic page size, an easy-to-read font, and a sturdy spine. We keep the actual content unchanged, however all titles do go through a meticulous copy-editing process before being brought out.
Barry Richman, a retired editor and publishing manager, has been copy editing on a volunteer basis for our publishing department for a few years now.
The way Barry got involved with Pariyatti was quite organic. While buying books via www.pariyatti.org he started occasionally submitting errata (suggestions for corrections) of books in our catalog. Those errata were of such a high standard that we were very pleased when he agreed to volunteer as a regular copy editor.
In line with his preference to edit “anything written, introduced by, or otherwise involving Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Anālayo, or Ledi Sayādaw,” Barry has since then copy edited several titles by Ledi Sayādaw, the first volumes of the BPE Collected Wheel Publications we brought out recently, and co-edited the classic Buddhist Dictionary by Nyanatiloka Thera. “For their clarity and scholarship, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhu Anālayo are my favorite translators and explainers of the Dhamma. Understanding Ledi Sayādaw is my favorite challenge,” Barry says.
Working from a small room at home where he is surrounded by bookshelves, and has a working collection of suttas, BPE’s Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, and other reference works within reach, Barry says he starts the editing process in the simplest way possible. He pulls up the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader on his 27-inch iMac and reads for meaning.
“If anything gets in the way of understanding what I’m reading, I do something about it,” Barry says, adding that the most important goal of editing is to make sure that the meaning of the text is clear, unobstructed. “Copy editing can support a framework for content. At its best, the framework should be invisible, in the sense that no editing obscures or interferes with the content. Good copy editing supports the author’s communication. It does not impose rules simply for the sake of rules,” Barry says. “For example, the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, is used after the next-to-last word, or phrase, in a list of three or more words or phrases, and before ‘and’ or ‘or’. However, if an author consistently writes such lists without a serial comma, then the only time good copy editing adds a serial comma is when clarity is at stake.”
Barry mentioned that obstacles to clarity usually lay in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency, but that he also checks the texts on the level of subject-matter. “If the obstacle is conceptual, I may do some quick research; for example, seeing if there is a different translation or explanation that will help me understand the material. But if it is grammar, spelling, punctuation, or consistency, I will usually quickly see if there is a need for a change and suggest one (occasionally a change plus an alternative change).”
All errata come to our publisher in a Word document. “Each suggested change is identified by the page and line number where I think there is a problem. When I can’t see how to deal with an obstacle, either conceptually or editorially, I ask a question. Sometimes the publisher forwards such questions to a scholar monk for advice,” Barry says.
Barry generally takes two standard passes through each title. “The first is a slow, meticulous editorial pass. The second is a relatively fast check to see that each erratum makes sense, is expressed clearly, and that the page and line numbers are accurate.”
Working with Dhamma servers/volunteers, as a publisher Pariyatti doesn’t usually set deadlines for copy editing. The copy editor just delivers the errata when finished and our publisher takes it up from there. The editorial time varies with the length of the title, the editorial condition of the text, and the complexity of the content. “An individual [BPS] Wheel on a Buddhist theme, such as rebirth, may take as little as an hour and result in only a few errata,” Barry says. “An explanation of a complex topic, such as dependent origination, may require a few hours. Content that includes Commentaries often require the most time. Some lengthy Wheels, especially when two or three essays are combined, can take several hours and result in dozens of errata.”
Copy editing is meticulous work. It is mainly done ‘manually’ and sentence by sentence, although there is some room for ‘automation’. “I frequently use global searches to check for consistency, both in the PDF of the text and in my suggestions for changes,” Barry says.
Adjusting punctuation for clarity is the change Barry suggests most often. “Authors sometimes write complex sentences intending to cover all relevant points. Those [run-on] sentences usually need careful separation of ideas into digestible portions,” says Barry. In sentences with multiple clauses he would often change commas to semicolons; semicolons provide a stronger pause and separation of text elements than commas.
Another type of erratum Barry often comes across is faulty typesetting—quotation marks in reversed order, for instance. Sometimes closing quotation marks appear at the beginning of quoted material, rather than at the end, and vice versa.
When coming across ‘hyphenitis’ (Barry’s term for overuse of hyphens), Barry says he checks with both British and American English dictionaries before suggesting to eliminate unnecessary hyphens (e.g., changing ‘pre-determined’ to ‘predetermined’, ‘life-time’ to ‘lifetime’, or ‘eight-fold’ to ‘eightfold’). “Early Wheel authors often relied on hyphens, especially to connect concepts (‘thought-habits’, ‘free-will’) but also to conform to then-current spellings (‘para-psychology’, ‘sub-atomic’),” Barry says. Language and spelling constantly evolve, and in such cases current usage would dictate eliminating the hyphen, to either write the concept as two words or as a closed-up single word.
Barry says that copy editing Dhamma books gives him various rewards: the satisfaction of making a contribution to readers’ access to the Dhamma and the opportunity to gain knowledge. “A few examples: I’ve learned from editing Ledi Sayādaw, to be aware of the distinction between conventional truth (sammuti-sacca) and ultimate truth (paramattha-sacca) (Wheel No. 31/32). From Francis Story, that saṃsāra does not exist in time, but that time exists in saṃsāra (Wheel No. 12/13). From I.B. Horner, that if bathing in sacred rivers could purify a person, then fish and water snakes would go straight to heaven (Wheel No. 30). From Douglas M. Burns, that it is not what we can gain from meditation that is important, but what we can diminish—greed, hatred, and delusion (Wheel 88/89). From Bhikkhu Khantipālo, that puñña is more than just ‘merit’, but the benefit to the mind resulting from actions such as generosity, virtue, and helpfulness (Wheel No. 130/131).”