Editing unfamiliar material is difficult and requires a lot of effort to learn about the field. My academic background is in Middle Eastern history, but for the past two years, I’ve been editing pieces that deal with military strategy, intelligence, terrorism, and cyber-related issues from cybersecurity to self-driving cars. I never anticipated editing pieces like this and admittedly, the content is far removed from my own personal politics and perspective; still, as a relatively new editor, I am not yet in a position where I can choose what I edit. Moreover, having an academic background and being intellectually curious, I decided that I could edit in these fields as they do interest me sufficiently enough to be able to read and edit the materials without being completely lost.
The articles that I edit are published online by a policy institute. The audience is varied, from military officials to decision makers to students and even the general public. As a non-specialist in the field, I think my editing makes the writing more accessible. At the same time, I have learned to leave as much of the author’s language and voice in the piece, and not transform it into the kind of article I might have written.
I admit that I made a few mistakes in the beginning. I wasn’t familiar with the terminology. For example, I remember coming across the term “theater” in an article about military history. To add to the difficulties, the texts are mostly translated from Hebrew, so I tended to blame the translators for my confusion. At first, I turned to my friends on Facebook, and asked them for help. Some people who had served in the army helped me better understand the terms of discourse.
After realizing that “theater” refers to the area in which the military operation takes place, I became a bit wiser. I realized that I had to create my own set of tools for editing in this field. I have collected a number of terminology guides as well as websites to assist me in editing. Among the terminology guides that I use are Richard Bowyer, Dictionary of Military Terms, which includes both American and British military terms. The US Department of Defense or DoD (abbreviations are common in this kind of editing) has also issued a guide to terms, called the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. There is also a website called Military Terms, which is useful. Sometimes I get really stumped about the language, and turn to the original Hebrew pieces where I also do not understand the terminology. Military terms in Hebrew, as in English, also use a lot of abbreviations. I barely understand everyday life abbreviations in Hebrew, let alone the military ones. On the internet, I discovered several sites that could help me understand the abbreviations, such as http://www.kizur.co.il/. I also was able to download a dictionary of military abbreviations in Hebrew and English, which has been useful.
Some articles that I’ve edited have focused on terrorism in the Middle East, and I’ve found myself having to double-check names of terrorist groups and individual terrorists. While usually, I admit, I just google the people, and rely on the spelling in Wikipedia, glossaries of terrorism, such as the aptly named Glossary of Terrorism, are also good resources, It’s also useful to know some Arabic and how to transliterate.
The fields of intelligence and cyber-related issues have their own vocabularies. The Counter-Intelligence Glossary has been very useful in trying to understand the difference between SIGINT and HUMINT (SIGINT refers to signals intelligence and HUMINT is human intelligence). For the cyber field, the Cybrary is a great reference. It’s an open source about cybersecurity, and it has a huge glossary of terms online for anyone who registers to their site. The Cybrary also offers training in cybersecurity as well as access to experts in the field. Also of interest is its user-generated content knowledge base. Finally, there are several dictionaries available for purchase on Amazon. For example, Websters’ New World Hacker Dictionary seems like a great reference for anyone editing pieces related to the cyber world.
The main problem with cyberspace is that the vocabulary tends to change frequently so any website or dictionary needs to be current. The term “cyber” itself is also problematic. While some authors use it as a hyphenated prefix, it’s become more common for “cyber” to no longer be treated as a prefix; this, however, is not the case with every word preceded by “cyber.” Thus, we have “cyberspace” and “cyberterrorism” but then there is still the unhyphenated “cyber defense.” This indecisiveness about the word “cyber” lends to a lot of mistakes in editing.
Often the articles themselves provide me with links to useful sources. For example, one article on cybersecurity cited an article that had been published by the Cyber Security and Privacy Institute at the George Washington University, which has articles, blogs, and lists of experts. The website of CERT (Computer Emergency Readiness Team) is also useful for information. I have also had to verify names of security threats, and often look them up on sites such as Kaspersky, which provides security against cyberthreats.
Editing articles in a field that you are still learning demands a willingness to learn and seek knowledge and information. At times, it is very tedious and difficult to advance in the editing, because I get stuck trying to understand the meaning. While I by no means claim to be an expert in these fields, I do think that I have a better understanding since I first started editing these materials and feel increasingly comfortable editing pieces about cyberterrorism, SIGINT, and Israel’s military strategy.