As a youngster, I was an avid reader. I felt curiously satisfied the time I noticed that if merely the last part of a sentence lay within parenthesis, the period fell outside the brackets. If the entire sentence was parenthetical, however, the period should be placed within the brackets.
Looking back, it seems inevitable I’d end up correcting other people’s English. But I also had the benefit of an excellent teacher. After being hired by Taiwan News (then a print daily, now a web-only publication) in 1999, I was trained by a veteran newspaperman who’d cut his professional teeth at The Washington Post. I learned how to write headlines and captions, ensure that wire-service articles matched house style, and turn copy from our reporters (most of whom weren’t native English speakers) into features that were elegant as well as factually correct.
I left the newspaper to take up a better-paid job with shorter, friendlier hours at the Government Information Office. There I worked on the government’s online publications. I contributed the occasional article, sometimes wrote press releases, and from Monday to Friday edited items translated from local Chinese-language newspapers.
Since 2003, I’ve edited hundreds of essays written by students applying for admission to American universities, and just as many if not more letters of recommendation written by their professors and employers. Because many applicants in this part of the world interpret instructions like “write 400 to 600 words” as meaning “as close to 600 as possible,” I’ve become adept at cutting out the unnecessary and rephrasing the verbose. I pride myself on not only making my client’s writing clearer, but also saving the reader’s time.
For clients in the North America and Greater China, I’ve edited academic papers, PhD dissertations, novels, and book-length travelogs. My most recent large-scale editing project, in early 2018, was a textbook about China’s economy (cover pictured here). In every case I handle, I double-check facts, fix grammar problems, search for words the writer uses too often (“Dear Client… I’m replacing ‘likely’ with ‘probably’ in some instances…”), change “more” to “additional” if it reduces ambiguity… and make sure every period is on the right side of the bracket.