Electronic Textual Editing: Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions [From the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions]



The scholarly edition's basic task is to present a reliable text: scholarly editions make clear what they promise and keep their promises. Reliability is established by:
  • accuracy
  • adequacy
  • appropriateness
  • consistency
  • explicitness
—accuracy with respect to texts, adequacy and appropriateness with respect to documenting editorial principles and practices, explicitness and consistency with respect to methods. The means by which these qualities are established will depend, to a considerable extent, on the materials being edited and the methodological orientation of the editor, but certain generalizations can be made:
  • Many, indeed most, scholarly editions achieve reliability by including a general introduction—either historical or interpretive—as well as explanatory annotations to various words, passages, events, and historical figures.
  • Scholarly editions generally include a statement, or series of statements, setting forth the history of the text and its physical forms, explaining how the edition has been constructed or represented, giving the rationale for decisions concerning construction and representation, describing or reporting the authoritative or significant texts, and discussing the verbal composition of the text, its punctuation, capitalization, and spelling—as well as, where appropriate, the layout, graphical elements, and physical appearance of the source material. Statements concerning the history and composition of the text often take the form of a single textual essay, but it is also possible to present this information in a more distributed manner.
  • A scholarly edition commonly includes appropriate textual apparatus or notes documenting alterations and variant readings of the text, including alterations by the author, intervening editors, or the editor of this edition.
  • And finally, scholarly editions find it necessary to establish and follow a proof-reading plan that serves to ensure the accuracy of the materials presented.

Sources and Orientations

Considerations with Respect to Source Material:

The Editor's Theory of Text

Editorial perspectives range broadly across a spectrum from an interest in authorial intention, to an interest in the process of production, to an interest in reception, and editors may arrive at a given methodology for a variety of reasons. In very general terms, one could see copy-text, recensionist, and best-text editing as being driven by an interest in authorship—but best-text editing might also be driven by an interest in the process of production, along with "optimist", diplomatic, documentary, and social-text editing. Social-text editing might also be driven by an interest in reception—as "versioning" and variorum editing might be. And of course, an editing practice that is primarily interested in authorship might very well be interested in production or reception or both—any good editor will be aware of the importance of all of these things. However, when an editor has to choose what to attend to, what to represent, and how to represent it, there should be a consistent principle that helps in making those decisions. See the CSE's “Annotated Bibliography: Key Works in the Theory of Textual Editing.” for further information on editorial methods and perspectives.

Medium (or Media) in Which the Edition Will Be Published:

The decision to publish in print, electronically, or both will have an impact on a number of aspects of the edition, on its fortunes, and on the fortunes of its editor. Some questions an editor should consider in choosing the medium of publication:
  • Is the source material itself manuscript, printed, electronic, or a combination of formats?
  • What is the desired or potential audience for the work? Is there more than one audience? Will one medium reach the desired audience more effectively than another?
  • What rights and permissions are required for publication, and do the terms differ by medium?
  • What kind of apparatus can the edition have, and what kind should it have?
  • Are there standard symbols or methods in a given medium for representing the typography, punctuation, or other textual features of the material being edited (Peirce's symbols, Shelley's punctuation, size-of-letter problems, spacing problems)?
  • What is the importance of facsimile material, color reproductions, multiple versions, multiple states, interactive tools in this edition?
  • How important is permanence or fixity? How can these qualities be attained?
  • Alternatively, is there a possible benefit to openness and fluidity (for example, the certainty that new material will come to light)?
  • Is there a publisher willing to publish in the medium you choose?
  • How important is peer review (and if it is important, how will it be provided)?

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