Working as an in-house editor often means you will be editing the work of untrained writers. You may come across colleagues who don’t want to be writing in the first place, so how do you convince them that your editing services are valuable?
Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes people reject edits and say, “Scrap the whole thing.”
The first rule of editing is that you must leave your ego at the door. Sometimes keeping the peace is more valuable than being correct. Depending on your role, the situation could be entirely out of your hands.
If you are working with someone who seems like they can be convinced, there are a few steps you can take to demonstrate the value of editing.
Pick your battles
I have learned much about the way copy editors are viewed outside of our industry. Grammar gremlins and pedants, some say. Well, this may be true. To a certain extent.
But our job is to worry about the fine details so others don’t have to. And sometimes what seems like a small detail to the writer may have drastic consequences.
“Wait, is it ATP or ADP?”
I was recently editing a government application where the name of a department was listed incorrectly.
You can highlight these types of edits and explain the potential consequences. Errors can affect many people after you’ve looked at a document, including everyone from designers, proofreaders, advisors and managers to clients and investors. An error might mean an application is rejected, a scientific paper loses all credibility or a company doesn’t receive funding.
When you draw attention to these consequential errors you’ve caught, it solidifies your own credibility as a second set of eyes to polish a work to its highest potential. And this is infinitely more important than tracking changes for every incorrect semicolon.
Leave a note to the writer
When working as an in-house editor, you don’t always have the luxury of developing a relationship with your writer. There may be several steps between you and them in the workflow pipeline. Therefore, you become the faceless gremlin leaving red marks all over the document they thought was ready to go.
Explaining every choice you made in detail can get annoying and overwhelming. Instead, a brief explanation at the top of the document can provide an understanding of your intent as the editor. Make sure this is the first thing the writer sees when they open the document.
Hi writer, this document is looking great! Thank you for spending time on those citations; that saved a lot of work. I just noticed a few areas that gave me pause, and since this reading is introducing first-year students to these concepts, I highlighted some potential rewordings for clarity.
My editing philosophy is to always help writers and their writing reach the highest potential, but this goal may change based on your niche. Perhaps your intent is to make sure a scientific paper gets published, so all your edits are in service of that goal. Or maybe the approval of a grant application determines whether your company can continue a project, and you want to communicate the importance of flawless writing.
Critique the work, not the writer
I’ve seen the defensiveness that builds in the eyes of writers as they hear all the things they should have done better from the start. While editing, I make it very explicit that I am not critiquing the writer. This technique often leads to passive comments (I tell my writers to do as I say, not as I do), but saying “this paragraph can be shortened” rather than “you should shorten this paragraph” makes a huge difference.
I also use the pronoun “we” in comments to help the writer feel less isolated and targeted, e.g., “We need to see more development here.” No one works in a vacuum, so using “we” reinforces that your edits are in service of the entire team.
And bringing it back to consequences, I often use “the reader” or “the audience” as my sentence subject. Discussing the effect of the writing helps keep the editing process focused on publication and reception rather than what you as the editor think is best.
Would the reader already have the prerequisite information to understand this, or could a short paragraph above provide the audience with an overview/some background knowledge?
These are some of my tactics for smoothing out the editing process when colleagues show resistance to help. Have you experienced coworkers who did not want to be edited?
Do you have any strategies for demonstrating the value of your editing?
We would love to hear your experiences and advice in the comments!
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