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How to Be a Less Critical, More Constructive Editor


I’ve written a post before with some tips for writers who want to have a better work relationship with their editors. Although this post can work in tandem with that one, it’s for editors who want to work better with their artists.

In the content creation world, we all have our stereotypes. Designers are hard to pin down. Writers are fussy about and protective of their words. Editors are unnecessarily nitpicky. But it’s all a bit more complicated than that.

You see, we’re all working toward the same goal. We’re all trying to make the end product as good as it can possibly be. There are things we can all do to work together well. But as an editor, you have a really important role to play in setting the tone of how the editing process should go. That’s not to say that, if you do everything by the book, you’ll get everything right. You’ll probably still get some negative reactions, no matter how considerate you try to be. It happens. But there are several things you can do to help minimize any issues and create a good working process for all involved.

  1. Know your role.

    You are a coach, not a judge. Your job is to help the writer put out the best content they can. If you find yourself feeling extra critical, take a step back. Make sure you reassure your writers frequently that you’re there to help, not hurt.

  2. Choose your words wisely.

    Don’t just say something is wrong. I know this one is a bit harder, because if you’re on a short deadline with editing, you don’t necessarily have time to agonize over how you phrase your edits; you just want to make sure you’ve said something at all. But, if you have time, don’t just highlight a phrase and attach a comment that says “awkward” or “rewrite”, since that could come across as being quite harsh. And that brings me to my next point.

  3. Offer suggestions and explanations.

    If something’s a bit off, say why. Is the tone or voice not quite right? Are you trying to avoid repeating a word too much in the same paragraph? Could a sentence be phrased differently? Is a point missing? Make sure you let your writer know — kindly.

  4. Know when to dial back the editing.

    Even if you’ve seen a document several times before, you will always be able to find a new tweak that might work the slightest bit better. Know when to stop. Save your edits for the times when they’re really needed, and your writers will give more weight to the edits you do make.

  5. Work to be a good person to write for.

    Yes, you’re not the end audience. I know that. But you are the first reader, and the first reader needs to be a good person to write for. If your writer sees you as helpful rather than annoying, they’ll probably produce better work for you to begin with, and they’ll probably be more willing to work with you instead of fighting against you.

  6. Let your writer(s) know if your editing is more in-depth than what was requested.

    I was once given an assignment with a tight deadline. They said it was pretty much final and only needed a light edit. I opened the file, and I saw that it definitely needed more than a light edit. Page references were missing, names weren’t spelled properly, grammatical errors were plentiful. But instead of explaining that, I turned it around as quickly as I could to meet the deadline, only attaching a note to give me a shout if there were questions. I pissed off the writers and designers, which I hate doing, and although I was eventually able to explain the problem and they were relieved I pointed out the errors, it was a horrible experience. I won’t be making that mistake again.

While you can’t control the entire editing process and how everyone else handles it, you can control what you do. And how you approach the process can have a lasting impact, not only on the relationships you form but also on the content you help produce. Make sure you take the time to get it right.

Are you an editor? Did I leave out a helpful tip? Do you have a story to share? Or are there any grammatical mistakes in the post that you want to point out? Leave me a message in the comments!

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