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Financial editing keeps editor ‘learning more each day’

Working at a mutual fund company may not sound as glamorous as working at a fashion magazine, but Christine Steele is happy at the job she’s had for six years.

Christine Steele Senior Copy Editor

In a 45-minute phone interview, the senior copy editor at The Capital Group Companies in Los Angeles explained why. Steele, who is also on the executive committee of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), also talked about how that professional editing association  has  helped her network and get to know many people in different places. Meeting people who are just as excited about editing as she is, Steele said, has made her realize there are many ways to use editing skills.

Q:  What is your job title and can you describe what you do at The Capital Group Companies?

A:  I am a senior copy editor, I copy edit for the company. We are a mutual fund group that has 33 mutual funds that investors can choose from. Materials that I edit are: white papers, brochures for financial advisers, emails sent to advisers, PowerPoint presentations, shareholder reports and fund prospectuses, marketing collateral, post cards, letters and one-page fliers. Our target audience is financial advisers, shareholders and investors. I also maintain the department style guide. My department is investment communications and I have been at this business for the past six years.

Q:  Have you always lived in L.A.? If not, where else have you lived and worked?

A:  A while back I worked as a proofreader for a book publishing company in Pasadena, Calif., where I now live.  I also worked as a proofreader for eToys.com in Santa Monica. I was laid off and worked for a trade magazine in Malibu while living in Woodland Hills, Calif. After that, I worked as a website copy editor and an assistant copy editor for Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena, Calif.  Then I found a job in downtown Los Angeles at The Capital Group. I didn’t like working for a website because it was too technical. It was taking away from the print world and it wasn’t very fulfilling for me to work there, so I moved on to where I am now.

Q:  Did you aspire to work for a financial fund business?

A:  Not at all. A friend from eToys got a job as a copy editor at The Capital Group and she called and said, ‘Hey, you should apply here, I think you’d really like it.’  I had never edited this type of copy before, but I was open-minded and applied and was surprised I landed it. Working here seemed so intimidating, but it’s really interesting, challenging and varietal and keeps me on my toes learning more each day.

Q:  I know that you’re part of the American Copy Editors Society. Are you also part of any other groups? If so, how did you get involved?

A:  Yes, I am also on the executive board for The Financial Writer’s Stylebook, which can be found at fiwords.com. I’ve been an ACES member for a little over 10 years now…. It’s a great way to meet people who like copy editing.

I searched on the Internet and came across ACES and found out they host conferences every year…. It helps you network and meet educators, and you get to listen to presenters. One presenter I met is Bill Cloud who is the co-author of the “The Financial Writer’s Stylebook.” He asked me to be on the board. You can meet so many people in the field that can open doors for you. It’s really more about who you know, not what you know when it comes down to it.

I have been a member of other groups such as ASBPE, American Society of Business Publication Editors, who are magazine people.  I was also part of SfEP (based in the United Kingdom).

Q:  What are three of the most common errors you’ve seen or do see currently as an editor?

  1.  Compose and comprise. (It’s wrong to say ‘is comprised of ‘).
  2.  Principle, principal
  3.  That and which.

With these three, it’s not related specifically to editing financial copy but can be seen in any industry. They’re basic things you can learn from a usage book or an AP Stylebook. If you do not have a memory aid, find the book and use it.

Q:  What do you like most about your job?

A:  It’s challenging, sometimes hard which isn’t always fun but I like it because I don’t get bored easily. I’m challenged to ask questions even if I think they’re dumb because I need to know what I’m editing. For example, I am responsible for matching charts with text, which keeps me stimulated and makes me think even after I leave work.

Q:  What is the best advice you’ve ever received and who was it from?

A:  I didn’t consider this the best advice a while back, but today I do see it. A previous manager at eToys said, ‘Let go of smaller edits more often; they all may not  be implemented, so don’t waste time fighting so hard for them.’ I didn’t see the value in it 10 years ago because you have only one chance for a good first impression. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that letting go of those smaller things is the appropriate advice. The materials I edit aren’t for an audience of  copy editors.  Applying this advice now has helped me learn to manage time better as a copy editor.

Q:  Do you have any specific advice for aspiring editors and journalists?

A:  I have a bulletin board in my office that I pin quotes to that I like, and this one is an excerpt of an interview with Bryan A. Garner, author of “Modern American Usage.”

Question: In light of your discoveries about language, and about the politics of language, what big-picture advice can you give to copy editors?

Bryan: I’d say three things: First, do everything you can to educate yourself about the language. I’d recommend reading one book per quarter on language rhetoric. You don’t have to do as I do and read two or three a week­­—I’m trying to be realistic about this. Second, keep making distinctions. Don’t think that you’re the only one who cares about linguistic distinctions, because you’re not. You may be the only one in your immediate surroundings who seems to care, but there are many of us out there. Third, understand that copy editing involves people skills as well as technical skills. A big part of what you’re trying to do is sell good edits, so you have to be realistic in your working life about what points you can push and points you can’t. And be willing to back up what you say, but do it in a charming, nonthreatening way.

This is excellent advice because once I read it I said to myself, ‘Hey, great! I’m doing that!’ To add to this advice, I would say you need to have enthusiasm and humor.  It helps to be fun about some edits you suggest, doesn’t have to be all serious. Like Garner said, ‘be willing to back up what you say, but do it in a nonthreatening way.’

Q:  Do you have any other books you would suggest?

A:  Besides Bryan A. Garner’s “Modern American Usage,” I would suggest “Grammatically Correct” by Anne Stilman. It’s one of the first books I bought as a beginning copy editor. Each chapter is about a punctuation symbol, and it’s an easily written book so it’s easy to understand. I highlighted so much which helped me to learn the very basic stuff.

– Gabbi Nicole

University of Nebraska – Lincoln

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