Letter to Non-Editors
This post is part of a series of case studies by and for in-house editors. The focus of this series is on the personal experiences and various roles of in-house editors. A post will appear on the Editors’ Weekly every other month. If you’re interested in writing a post for this series, please email the Member Services Committee.
After about 20 years of working as an in-house editor in mostly non-traditional environments, like advertising and design, I am now happily an independent contractor working on- and off-site.
Here I’d like to focus on four issues that I’ve observed repeatedly over the years. I believe these have to do with a limited view of what editors do.
If you hire editors or work with them in-house, this is for you.
- Know what you want and want what you have.
Editors Canada defines four core editorial skills. A proofreader, for example, should not work on unedited material. Proofreading happens after editing and after layout. Maybe you want a copy editor. But do you want them to flag things like biased language, potentially libellous or misleading claims and faulty structure or logic? In my experience, the answer is often yes. If so, you want an editor who can do all four stages of editing. This work is more intensive, and therefore more expensive, than proofreading or copy editing.
- Editors are all different.
Give 100 editors a file and you’ll get back 100 different sets of revisions. This perplexes non-editors. Most people expect that Editor 2, Editor 3 and so on will not have anything to add to Editor 1’s work. Not true. You should find overlap, of course, and the amount of overlap will depend on the editors, the type of editing and the material being edited. Each editor brings their experience, knowledge and perspectives to their work. This is good. Ideally, you want multiple editors looking at a file for the same reason you want 12 people looking at evidence on a jury.
- Think twice before bypassing an editor.
Your editors are too busy, or you have no editors, so you’ll just go ahead and do the work yourself. Of course you can. But should you? It depends on the audience, medium and purpose — among other things. If it’s an important piece, I would think twice about this. The same goes for leaving it to artificial intelligence, which can be a helpful tool but in no way replaces a warm-blooded, nuance-oriented editor.
- Think of editors as partners, not programs.
Editing is intellectually complex work that requires time. Editors have multiple checklists, guides, references, manuals and compliance requirements. There are legal, ethical and reputational dimensions to the work we do. Often we’re working on multiple projects, and each one has a different set of all of these things.
When editors are treated like human grammar-and-spelling checkers instead of as equal partners in the process, that is to your organization’s detriment. Editing is as important as writing and design. None of the editing stages should be scheduled when the deliverable is on its way out the door. My advice is to include your editors in briefs and discussions, make sure they are seen and heard, and above all, give them time to do their work.
Bring back the editors
We live in a post-truth world of deep fakes and fake news, junk science and science denial… Dishonesty is everywhere, and editors are needed more than ever.
If you’re producing written material of any kind, you need editors. But before you hire them, take the time to understand what your editorial needs — and wants — are. The Editors Canada website is a good place to start.
Editors are some of the most thoughtful and conscientious people you’re likely to meet. These qualities are required to do the job well. Giving editors the time to do their jobs well will always pay off in countable and uncountable ways.
Editors, do you have any tips to add? Non-editors, do you have any anecdotes about working with editors to share?
Previous post from this series: Alone at the Intersection of Editing and Engineering
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