Scholarly Process of Editing Letters: Letters as a Primary Source for Researchers and Serious Readers

Author: Tipper, Karen
This study provides the information future editors of letters will need when they undertake the task of searching for, selecting, and editing letters of a person whose published letters, they believe, will make an important contribution to scholarship as well as being of interest to general readers.


“Dr. Karen Tipper, the author of a critical biography of Lady Jane Wilde and the editor of four volumes of her collected letters, clearly has the expertise to guide future editors through the demanding but rewarding task of editing letters. This work is also a thoughtful and fascinating study of lives written in letters.”
-Professor Mary A. Trottier,
Nichols College

“If you are embarking on a project of editing a collection of letters, you can take no better first step than to consult Professor Tipper’s essential and comprehensive guidebook…she provides an exhaustive guide that will be useful to novices and seasoned scholars alike. Her style is authoritative but not authoritarian, firm but not strict, scholarly but not pedantic. Both helpful and reassuring her voice is that of a reliable mentor and supportive friend.”
-Anne C. Moore

“Dr. Sasha Tipper offers smart practical advice regarding the process of editing a body of written correspondence, an area of scholarship with which she is exceedingly well-versed, having edited several critical volumes of Lady Jane Wilde’s letters. She brings her considerable experience and expertise to bear on the process of letter editing and lays out a series of “steps” that can be read like a “how to” manual. As a literature and writing professor, I can imagine using this essay in an advanced senior seminar course, but it’s also equally easy to imagine this text sitting on someone’s nightstand. It is written in prose that is lucid, unpretentious, and clear as a bell.”
-Professor Matthew Hobson,
Loyola University

Table of Contents

Preface by Mary A. Trottier
Part I
The ways in which letters are of value to both writers and readers

1. The value of an epistolary relationship to the writers themselves
2. The value of edited letters to the biographer, scholar, critic, and general reader.
3. Recognizing the personae assumed in letters.
4. Letters exchanged by two writers record the development of their relationship.
5. Letters reveal the artistic development of a writer or of two writers who exchange letters.
6. Letters provide a portrait of the intellectual milieu of the age.
7. Letters provide writers’ views of the political and social conditions of the world in which they live.
8. Letters as literature.
The Process of Editing Letters.

1. Deciding upon the focus of a collection of letters.
2. Searching for letters.
3. Reading handwritten, typed, and previously published letters.
4. Selecting letters based upon intended focus and readership.
5. Obtaining permission for publishing letters and photographs.
6. Dating the letters and determining addresses.
7. Organizing a collection of letters.
8. Setting up chronologies of the lives of letter writers and inserting biographical text.
9. Composing Prefaces, Editors’ Notes, and Introductions.
10. Recognizing all who have contributed to the publication of letters: Acknowledgments.
11. Documenting: Annotations, Footnotes, Endnotes.
12. Citing authorial emendations.
13. Explaining and citing editorial emendations.
14. Presenting letters for the published text.
15. Including a Table of Contents, Appendices, and Lists.
16. Including photographs and illustrations.
17. Including translations.
18. Including a bibliography and index.
19. Including a frontispiece and deciding upon a dedication.
20. Proofreading.