Divert, Test, Tease, and Challenge:
STET! Does All These and More
STET! Tricks of the Trade for Writers and Editors
Collection of articles and tips from the Editorial Eye newsletter
Editorial Experts, Inc. 1986, 324 pages, $20.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by Susan Maclean
Reading STET! is like attending a series of practical writing
and editing conferences- only it's cheaper and takes less time.
Although this isn't an essential reference book for editors, it
is easy to read, concise, well written, comprehensive, fun, practical
and at times even inspiring.
STET! is a compendium of reports of presentations at various
editorial seminars and distillations or critiques of style guides
and reference books issued by government and academia. It is a collection
of articles published in the The Editorial Eye, a newsletter
on publications standards and practices issued by the same publishers.
They have let stand (Latin: stet) articles that seem to have worn
well. Categories include: editing, writing, publications management,
indexing, proofreading, lexicography, and a kind of catch - all
section dealing with spelling, grammar and points of usage. A subject
index augments the extensive contents listing.
The goal of the book parallels that of the newsletter: "To
help its readers produce publications of the highest quality in
the most efficient and economical way... not just to inform and
instruct but amuse, divert, tease, and challenge its readers."
I would say it does.
Only occasionally were the articles of marginal interest to me.
A series on proposal writing for firms looking for business and
a selection for scientists writing technical papers are excellent
but seem out of context.
A major flaw for Canadians is that it is oriented solely to Americans.
For example, I found annoying the assumption that all readers would
know what GPO (U.S.Government Printing Office) meant. A series of
articles on government communications left me uninterested - except
for one piece in plain English which should be read daily by every
bureaucrat. The second last article in the book, Brush Up Your British,
warns "adventurous editors who want to work overseas"
that although "prevailing linguistic winds are westerly"
there is a considerable divergence between American and British
usage. Canada is neither mentioned nor, I suspect, considered.
Still, the article on U.S. grammar hotlines - where grammar advice
is a phone call away - offers some ideas which could inspire some
enterprising Canadians willing to provide such a service here.
I have two other criticisms. First, people cited as authorities
are seldom identified as to their qualifications. Secondly, the
folio line LOGO*PHILE appears frequently without any explanation
and is a puzzling distraction to those, like me, who are unfamiliar
with the newsletter. It isn't until page 247 that I pick up the
hint that it is the editor's column.
(Those editorial columns, however, and other contributions by editor
Bruce O. Boston, including the section introductions, are well written
and frequently entertaining.)
Within the scope of the entire text, these are minor flaws in an
otherwise exceptionally enjoyable and stimulating how-to-book. Sprinkled
throughout are tests, quizzes and what the publishers call "Black
Eyes". These are comical (aren't they always when someone else
makes them?) printed errors.
STET! ranges from controversy on, for example, sexism, to
trivia tests (Do you know what the symbol # is called?). Along the
way the authors discuss a host of reference books, including Theodore
Bernstein's Miss Thistlebottom's Hobooblins, and many others
more familiar to most of us.
Publications Management Lessons and Warnings, and Lessons from
50 Years' Editorial Experience are two entertaining and helpful
selections bound to invoke knowing chuckles from experienced editors.
I found only one article unclear. Not bad considering there are
probably more than 150 selections.
The book is largely directed at editors: People who would be most
likely using the term stet! Those involved only in writing might
find the book of limited use.
Who would enjoy reading this book? Let me crib from one of the
book reviews in STET!: "Editors of other people's writing
will enjoy reading... as they would enjoy listening to a respected
colleague who may confirm their convictions, offer new ideas on
how to go about their wordwork, or both."
This book is not in itself an authority - especially for non-American
English users. But it does contain practical suggestions and excellent
tips on, for example, editing technical reports, getting along with
authors, estimating editing time, crash editing, newsletter cost
cutting and devising an editing test when hiring editorial staff.
STET! is contemporary. While there isn't a section specifically
on desktop publishing, money-saving production tips include how
to send clean copy electronically to a typesetter to cut typsetting
costs by 40 per cent.
A section on standards invites interesting comparisons between
your speed and accuracy (or that of your staff) to some suggested
average speeds and accuracy levels. The average error rate in keyboarding
is one or two errors in 1,000 keystrokes; the average in proofreading
is one or two uncaught errors in 7,000 characters, according to
the National Composition Association newsletter.
The book also has technical merits. The text typeface is 10/12
ITC Garamond, clean and easy to read. Lots of heads and sub-heads
break up the copy. Articles probably average only two pages long.
The writing is remarkably consistent considering the number of contributors.
Those contributors seem expert at presenting ideas concisely and
"As the years go by every editor needs to make a continuing
effort to stay informed about changing trends and new techniques
in production," writes 50-year veteran Lola Zook. "Your
own niche may be comfortable and well worn and presumably safe from
erosion. But the world changes, and organizations change, and needs
change - and your niche might be worn away, or you may just get
tired of it. When you poke your head up to look around, better be
sure you know what's going on..."
STET!, with a light and breezy style, helps you know what's
Susan Maclean is owner of Sumac Communication, a writing/editing
firm serving clients in southern Ontario.
This article originally appeared in Sources,
10th anniversary issue, Summer 1987.
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