Editing isn’t a single role, it’s a multi-faceted craft relating to any number of communication mediums and purposes. Some editors work with a novelist, some copyedit marketing blurb, some rip news articles into shape, and others polish messages and internal communications. The skills are as diverse as the objectives, and while grammar and vocabulary are important, each medium for each audience needs a different touch, relevant to the objective of the article.
But there’s another matter I’d like to mention, something on the soft side, something that an experienced, 25-years-in-the-chair editor might have forgotten.
It’s not our name at the bottom of the article.
An editor holds a fair bit of power, an overview that authors may not see, and several pressing objectives that drive them forward, but an editor’s role is often an uncelebrated one. It’s the author’s credibility and work an editor supports.
I find that terrible writers are very grateful for the assistance of an editor. I sometimes find that a bad writer doesn’t know how bad they are, and insufferably believes that their work cannot be improved. They hand you a hunk of rock, that you can see the potential in, but they won’t allow you to sculpt the final masterpiece.
I don’t publish roughly hewn articles. Everything can be improved, usually by taking words away, rather than adding them.
There are times when I have to say ‘no, that ain’t so good‘ but in general I can lightly touch a paragraph in such a way that the author doesn’t notice, but that will positively impact the audience. I’m not saying I’m a word-smithing virtuoso, I’m saying that a lot of my job is making sense of convoluted sentences and creating succinct order and clarity.
But while I’m keen on the six areas of good communications (below) there’s something that a writer of any skill or level of ignorance can add that I can’t, and that’s their unique voice and perspective.
It is the content expert’s voice and perspective that I aim to leave intact. Beyond the guidance on good writing and good communication is the thrill of helping someone find their voice and allowing their perspective to roll over the audience. So while I always have the article’s objective and its final audience in mind, I never mean to become clinical about the English language; the author’s voice is too precious to quash. Tread softly in your editing; prune, guide and correct as you might tend to an established garden – don’t stamp your mark too strongly, let the author’s voice be heard.
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