Book Editing: Math . . . It’s Not Just for English Majors

25 May

My first assignment as editor here has been Diana Gafford’s Quick Math Review, a developmental math text for TSTC Harlingen. To be honest, the idea of editing a math textbook of any kind frightened me some, math phobic that I am. How much math would I actually need to know? Would there be a test? Fortunately, all the math homework had been done. My chief worries would be issues of editing.

Still, as I’ve worked through the book, I’ve become reminded of my own experience with similar math classes as an undergraduate at Texas State University in San Marcos (in my day still called Southwest Texas State University). Pack rat that I am, up until a few months ago I still had the math book I used in intermediate algebra—a text bound at a local copy shop, written by the prof who taught the course, worn yellow cover now with various doodles on it (admittedly I wasn’t always attentive).

I don’t know why I kept the book, except perhaps as a reminder that I had triumphed over math and math anxiety, and not math and math anxiety over me. But I had it, and about a year later, it proved useful as a reference when studying for the Graduate Record Exam (though an English major, I was required to take all three sections of the GRE: verbal, analytic and quantitative).

All my petty complaints throughout undergraduate school wondering why I had ever had to take math were shattered by the decision to pursue a master’s degree, because knowing at least some basic math beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication and division became essential to furthering my academic career. Low scores on the GRE would mean no graduate school.

After the GRE, I never thought I would ever need math again, beyond the basics, and for the most part in my career as an editor at the Temple Daily Telegram and as adjunct instructor at McLennan Community College, my math skills were rarely challenged, except perhaps in creative checkbook balancing.

But here I am at TSTC Publishing, an editor, and I find myself editing a math book. While my editing duties haven’t included actually having to solve equations, I still have to be aware of the basics of math, because of the quirks of editing and formatting — tables set up in MS Word caused, for instance, decimals to shift, and decimals have to line up, or examples will be wrong; points on graphs have to line up just right, for instance, or they’re wrong. I’ve also had to learn to read equations and mathematical symbols such as > or < as parts of complete sentences to edit them correctly.

And though it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to solve any of the equations in the books I edit, using those skills I complained about having to learn as an undergraduate proves a point as to why math or English or any other subject is required: You never really know when, how, or where you might need some inkling of that subject, whether you’re in publishing, an instructor, or part of any other business.

As an editor, I’ve brought almost everything I’ve experienced and learned with me to book publishing — the essentials: grammar, punctuation, spelling — math, history, tech skills, literary trivia, the language of business, science, pop culture trivia, rhetoric, and virtually everything else under the sun, most of which I can never discount as unnecessary to my profession.



2 Responses to “Book Editing: Math . . . It’s Not Just for English Majors”

  1. Stephen Tiano May 29, 2007 at 5:10 pm #

    I’m crazy about typesetting math. Equations are just the coolest thing to put on the page. There’s something about setting an equation that takes up the better part of a whole page, and looking it over to find that it flows and aligns, and has just the right amount of white space all the way around. When I first began to typeset math, I began to appreciate how those in the know spoke of music and math in similar tones. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a book heavy with equations in a long while. I thought I ad a big, big math project line up back around Labor Day, but delays have turned into postponement and maybe cancellation. That stinks! But I appreciated your entry above reminding me that I love laying out pages of math.

  2. Neumann September 13, 2009 at 6:13 am #


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