An editor’s true job is to work with the author, not against the author of the writing. It’s not about what to change. It’s about what to keep intact. The author’s voice and meaning are paramount. The editor’s job is to help the writer convey the message in the best way possible, in proper English convention, to the audience for which it was designed and with the purpose for which it was intended.
The author-editor connection is a relationship. This is why you pay for the editor’s time. The editor has years of knowledge and experience, and tailors them to you and your needs, which means getting to know you and your work, and taking time to go through it. Choose your editor with care and build a relationship. You need to “be on the same page,” so to speak—see things in a similar way. The editor should be communicating with you and asking you to clarify any ambiguities. This is critical. If something is written in an ambiguous manner and can be interpreted in more than one way, the editor should not guess, but instead check with the author about what he or she truly meant.
This may be especially important if English is a non-native language for the writer. If the editor is somewhat familiar with the writer’s native language, or one with grammatical similarity, this can be an advantage for interpreting the meaning in the writing, especially when it is awkwardly phrased, as is sometimes the case when people translate from another language into English or are not familiar with some of the tricky English syntax.
Creative people who have wonderful ideas but are self-proclaimed poor spellers or grammarians, have inadequate writing skills, or who have not been adequately taught in the school system can benefit from the years of honed skills and knowledge of a professional editor. Polishing the writing adds credibility and professionalism to the work.
Have you ever noticed that spelling and grammar checkers prompt you to do the wrong thing, or don’t catch your errors? That’s because they don’t understand what you’re trying to say. You may not necessarily be the one in error. They’re generic programs. That’s why they’re quick and free (such as online), or built into word processors. They help, but they are a good start rather than a good finish. They are one-size-fits-all and therefore have limitations. In the end, a knowledgeable human brain has to make the final decision. If you aren’t sure, check with someone who knows. A spelling and grammar checker will also do little to help your flow, style, organization, and delivery to the intended audience.
Attitude, lack of attention to detail, and lack of willingness to learn are rarely confined to one area in life. Just as your clothes and personal grooming are judged by others, the way you write reflects how you think. Your writing is the visible tip of an iceberg; what lies beneath is a compilation of your knowledge and care, or lack thereof. People know it’s there. People assess you by it. If you are a business coach and can’t distinguish homonyms, how can I trust that you distinguish things when you’re coaching me to success—or even understand what I mean in the first place? If you are a mechanic who sends me e-mails with careless errors, and the sign that advertises your car repair shop has misspellings or usage errors, can I trust you not to miss anything when you fix my car?
True, this may be somewhat simplistic. Messy, dishevelled writers can come up with the most beautifully written, well organized, and meticulous work (because they’re so busy with the writing they neglect their appearance and desk, for example), and conceptual people may have problems with the left-brain aspect of good writing but still provide valuable ideas and services. However, when someone doesn’t know you, they have little to go on other than your physical appearance or your “on the page” or online appearance. They make assessments about you based on that. We may not like it, but it’s reality. It’s image. And when you want to be assessed favourably, considered valuable, or taken seriously by others, every good coach, business person, or editor will tell you to mind your image.
There’s always a chance others won’t notice or will let it pass. But there is a significant number of people who do notice, even if they don’t say so. It’s not worth the risk of having those people quietly turn away, possibly the very people you wanted to attract, before you ever knew you had lost them!
- You can get away with carelessness or lack of knowledge in some places, but not in others–never in print, advertising, graphics with messages (inspirational photos, etc.), or anything with a permanent record. Ditto with communications where it matters, such as resumes, business letters, and website content, where your image is crucial.
Tip: Anything you value, or you want others to value–your self-published book, a billboard sign, a business website, a thesis–hire an editor! That means you have to pay, just like you have to pay for any other service in this world.
- Bad grammar is fine to use when it is a deliberate choice, not a default due to lack of knowledge. Unlike in formal writing, there are places for bad grammar, slang, and casual speech, such as in personal writing and dialogue in stories. Even so, there are rules and conventions for doing bad grammar properly. Changing word meanings or parts of speech, such as your/you’re or dog’s/dogs is never an option.
- At the very least, proofread your own writing before posting or sending. No first draft is perfect. This way, at least you correct the things you know. If you try your best and are willing to learn, people will be more tolerant than if you simply don’t care or believe it’s not important.
- Written language is a model to others learning to spell and write. We need to be conscious of English language conventions and preserve them. Conventions in spelling, grammar, and punctuation help us to say what we need to clearly and accurately. Punctuation is as integral to the message as the words themselves. If we disrupt these conventions and lose our ability to distinguish and differentiate–or, worse, it won’t be us, it will be the next generation who doesn’t have our prior knowledge–we are impoverishing our language, devolving it, and losing our ability to communicate. Communication through words is already imperfect. We should not make the situation worse, but instead try to improve accuracy.
- Languages do evolve, but it is important to note that is not the same thing as accepting the possession “your” for the contraction of subject and verb “you’re.”
- By all means, do have your material looked at by friends and family, but keep in mind that this is not the same as, nor should it be a substitute for, professional editing. In addition, editing by English teachers takes on a different form than editing for business and books. Although teachers and professors of English may know their grammar and other aspects (depending on their focus of study), they are trained differently than professional editors.
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