Seeing Red? Tips for Working with Editors

by Amanda Bernhardt

“Why did you change this?!” said a researcher who had just stormed into my office. He was holding an issue brief I recently edited and sent back to him.

“Because it’s jargon. This brief is for laypeople. They’re not going know what ‘substantial gainful activity’ is,” I said.

“But our client—the guy paying our bills—likes that language. Shouldn’t we do what he likes?”

As editorial disagreements go, this one was minor, mostly because we have a corporate rule about it. But writers and editors always seem to but heads over something. And if you’re a writer, eventually you’ll be dealing with this, too.

I can hear you groaning already. Writers don’t love the idea of having their work napalmed by an editor, but editors aren’t the enemy. In fact, their goal is to make you and your writing look great. A good editor sees your work as your readers will see it. She can tell you what to cut, add, and correct to get the attention and response you want.

But what if you disagree with the edits? What if the editor doesn’t catch everything or changes your intended meaning? Here are some tips for minimizing the amount of red ink spilled:

Before the Edit

  1. Revise your work. Just because you’re working with an editor doesn’t mean you can skip your own revision. Get your draft into a good shape before an editor sees it. Have someone else read it, if needed.
  2. Get your facts straight. A good editor will catch things like simple math errors or that Austin (not Dallas) is the capital of Texas. But if your standard deviation is off by 2 points or you cited the wrong source, that may be on you. Find out how much, if any, fact checking your editor does.
  3. Know your style guide. Save yourself and your editor time by learning your style. It’s easier to put in the serial comma yourself than to have your editor do it and have to accept a ton of commas in Track Changes.
  4. Have a pre-edit chat. Tell your editor the purpose of your document, your audience, the style guide you’re using, and your deadline. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the editing process. Chat with your editor in person, if possible, to establish a rapport.

After the Edit

  1. Don’t take it personally. Getting a red-inked document back can make you feel like a fifth-grader getting an F on a paper. Don’t worry, you’re not grounded. Many writers, including great ones, get heavily edited; it’s a normal part of the process. Your editor’s goal is not to punish you but to make you and your writing shine.
  2. Have a post-edit chat. Review the edits and note any you disagree with or have questions about. Go over those with your editor. There’s a lot of give and take in editing, and not every edit is set in stone.
  3. Take another look. If you revise your work post-editing, you may introduce new errors. Feel free to ask for a follow-up edit or a proofread to catch any typos. (Remember to budget time for this.)

Further reading:

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