3 min read

19. The edit

Accessibility, design systems, careful language
silver framed eyeglasses on white paper
Image by Anne Nygård from Unsplash

In Francis Flaherty’s The Elements of Story, the author (a New York Times copy editor) describes his job as a ‘story doctor’. If that’s the case, then a developmental editor is somewhere between a surgeon and a therapist. That analogy holds thanks to my reading of two books on the topic. I finished reading Andrew Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (in a used copy that was older than I was and pages falling out of the spine). The title may seem hyperbolic to those unversed in early 20th century publishing, but it’s not: he edited no less than F Scott Fitzgerald (his queries for The Great Gatsby are explained in more detail in Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit), Ernest Hemingway, and most notably Thomas Wolfe. Perkin’s mythological status as editor, mentor, and, in the cases of Wolfe and Fitzgerald, money lender, have inspired many an editor or writer, but arguably are tied to a bygone era of rampant drinking and Protestant work ethic. More recently, I finished Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing—a innocuous looking manual that belied some gripping fictionalised case studies of developmental editors (or DEs) coaxing the real structure out of an author’s non-fiction manuscript… and then negotiating with the author on the changes. I never expected that book to make me read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

This month in digital government and design

Are you a freelancer? Elliott Finsberg has a Plain English contracting template.

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Thoughtwork’s Design as a Team guidebook is very good. (Pity that it’s PDF rather than HTML, but at least it doesn’t require handing over one’s email address to access it).

I’d previously mentioned that the UK’s Government Office for Science (still don’t know who they are) had published a systems thinking guide for civil servants. However I’d missed that just before this, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have published how they are integrating systems thinking into the department.

I also missed this in March, but the collective Superrr Lab has published 12 principles for feminist tech.

Amy Hupe has been on a writing bonanza this month about design systems. She’s written about changing how we talk about bad design patterns, the challenges with crediting design system contributors,  why we need to include humans in our rhetoric of design systems, and why design system documentation should be written in the active voice (the Elements of Style writers Strunk and White would approve of this final point).

There’s also been a few blog posts about more careful language. Humanetech gives prompts for how to humanise political language (less ‘transparency, more ‘accountability’), and Caroline Jarrett explains why you shouldn’t use “reading age” as a phrase when talking about adults.

I wish I saw more case studies relating to information architecture (IA), like this IA case study on the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries by digital agency Springload.

More generally with blogging, this guide on how cultural organisations can target content for different audiences is also relevant to any organisation with some specialist readers.

The charity Scope made the interview process for their content design intern as inclusive as possible. The successful applicant is disabled and said that their care made all the difference. (Digital.gov have also published guidance on more diverse procurement).

Speaking of charities, Shelter is continuing their digital transformation process. Their latest guidance is about content operations in Shelter.

Nour Sidali of the Ministry of Justice talks about how maybe we need an ecological approach in the civil service.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) worked with Leicester Council to simplify their text messages and so save the council money.

Sheon Han writes in The Verge about the history of screen readers (the software used by people with visual impairments to read out what’s on screen).

And Citizens’ Advice are working to make their internal tech products accessible.

And over in the USA, Deque has finished a series of blog posts on how to make accessibility work in an organisation happen.


I’ve always been impressed at the work of sign painters - unlike me, they don’t have an undo button! The film Sign Painters looks at this unassuming but ubiquitous craft. Available for free from the website.

I love the idea of a podcast about creative (and sometimes personal) partners.

It’s Nice That talks to designers creating posters for political protest.

We hear about people getting coaches. How about a coach for a surgeon?

A tongue-in-cheek (but also correct) guide of what not to say to Irish people.

I did a Manual of Me for work (more on Manual of Me), used what I’d written about my energy over the week to block off time in my calendar, and then my tweet about it went semi-viral

And finally, an editing joke

Until next time,


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