Being a good writer is one thing, while being a good editor is completely different. There is a great possibility that someone is going to ask you to edit or review some type of document at some point of your career. It may be your boss who needs you to expand a certain report that has been started by another employee, or it may be your friend who is asking for help on proofreading a paper.
Whatever the task is, proofreading and editing someone else’s work can be a real challenge. First of all, it is not easy to determine the weak spots and the changes that need to be made, as you could end up making the writer unhappy with the changes, especially if you alternated their style of expression. Becoming a good editor takes finesse, but as anything else in life practice will make you better. Before you start practicing, take our editing and revising tips into consideration and make your work much easier!
1. Measure twice before you cut! This saying may sound as a cliché, but it is very applicable in this situation. Before you make any types of changes in the document, you should think carefully and take the entire picture into consideration. Proofreading the document without reading its entire content first can mislead you into making improper alterations. It is very important to read the text before you start making corrections, since that is the only way to get an understanding of the writer’s tone, style and intentions. Being familiarised with the subject matter is more than necessary if you want to deliver good editing work.
Another recommendation we can provide is to ask the writer about the goals they want to achieve with the editing. Some editing tasks require information checks; others require the document to be expanded and some writers simply want the editor to take care of the spelling and grammar mistakes.
2. Watch out for the most common errors: Homonyms. Microsoft Word has a great spelling and grammar check tool which can take care of most typos, but some of the mistakes within the document still go by unnoticed. Usage of the wrong word is one of the most common errors writers make, ie. the use of “ensure” instead of “assure” is quite common. If you are a careful and diligent editor, you will easily spot these mistakes and correct them.
3. Pay attention to style corrections. As an editor, you will sometimes need to alter the style of the writing. For example, some style guides prefer writing “e-mail” over “email”, while others prefer the latter. The best way to be sure of what you are doing is to consult the style guide of the company or industry the document belongs to. If there are no such guidelines, you should correct the writing according to your preferences, but make sure to keep the style consistent throughout the entire document.
4. Editors need to research too! When you are sure that some pieces of information within the writing are wrong, but you aren’t sure how to correct them, doing some research is your only option. The clues of the context may lead you towards figuring out how to make the correction, but do not make guesses if you are not 100% sure of what you are doing. You can make a note within the document and consult the writer (or another person responsible for the document) to ask if they are aware of the mistake and if they can provide you with instructions.
5. Forget your personal preferences. Sometimes you just won’t like the writer’s style and your instincts will tell you to change it more than necessary. If your job is to only correct the obvious mistakes, the writer may be offended when you deliver a document that has been completely altered and doesn’t sound like they have written it themselves. Your job as an editor is to clean up the mess within the writing while maintaining the writer’s voice and the meaning of the original sentences.
Conclusion: Editing is a rewarding job!
Being an editor is definitely not easy, but it is a job that helps everyone in the end. You, as an editor, will practice your skills and become a better writer through this work, you will make the writer look smarter in the readers’ eyes and you will provide the readers with a better document.
BIO: Sandra Miller is a writer from New York and an NYU graduate with a PhD in English Literature. While writing her first book, Sandra learned the art of self-publishing. She recommends authors use professional editing services.