United Nations documents and publications are usually reviewed by an editor before being translated and issued.
The purpose of editing is to ensure that documents are clear, coherent, factually accurate, suitable for translation into the other five official languages and presented in a consistent United Nations style. Editors play a key role in ensuring the efficient elimination of textual errors, irregularities or ambiguities that might otherwise be rendered differently by each translation service.
Types of documents edited
Editors work on documents for many bodies of the Organization, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and their subsidiary bodies, as well as on submissions from other intergovernmental bodies and from Member States. The range of subjects is vast, as befits the scope of the Organization’s concerns, ranging from climate change to statistics, from peace and security to the empowerment of women, from economic development to human rights.
Role of editors
Editors make sure that established terminology is used and work with authors to structure and refine their texts, sometimes at the early drafting stage, with a focus on ensuring readability and avoiding misstatements, while also making editorial improvements and applying United Nations style in a way that supports the author’s intended message. In that regard, editors must also be alert to subtle nuances of meaning and attuned to political sensitivities.
While texts are generally edited for immediate use, many documents, such as the resolutions and decisions of the Charter bodies and related international legal instruments, remain important historical records long after their drafting. Like that of translators, the work of United Nations editors thus contributes to the Organization’s legacy.
Editors use modern technological tools to support their work, including UNTERM, document repositories with full-text search capabilities, online reference sources, the editorial interface of the eLUNa computer-assisted translation tool and the United Nations Editorial Manual. The workflow is fully electronic, with all editors working on-screen. The task of editing itself, however, remains a fundamentally intellectual and human endeavour.
The Editorial Manual serves as the in-house authority on the style to be followed in drafting, editing and reproducing United Nations documents, publications and other written material. It is the primary repository of the editorial practice of the Organization that is applied throughout the Secretariat.
Editors also update and maintain the UNTERM terminology database in English, working in close collaboration with translators.
Most United Nations editors have English as their main language because more than 90 per cent of documents received are drafted in English. Nevertheless, their knowledge of more than one official language also allows editors to grasp the intent of authors writing in a language not their own, understand how sentences may pose translation challenges and make use of reference material available in other official languages.
Editors must also demonstrate sound political judgment when suggesting editorial solutions. Meticulous research and in-depth consultations with authors, staff of permanent missions and subject-matter experts, as well as translators, may be required.
All editors have passed a rigorous exam that tests their editing skills in their main language and their knowledge of two other official languages. Editors are currently recruited through a combined examination with translators and verbatim reporters which qualifies them for all three functions.
Editors apply standard United Nations editorial principles. They must:
- Ensure logic and clarity
- Ensure grammatical correctness
- Ensure factual accuracy
- Ensure conformity with United Nations style (e.g., format, spelling, capitalization, presentation of headings and footnotes, use of acronyms and abbreviations)
- Use standard terminology as provided in UNTERM
- Ensure the document’s suitability for its intended readers and its consistency with previous versions of similar or related material