Lindsay Bell

Why Your Editor is Your Friend

By: Lindsay Bell | February 20, 2013 | 
116

Today’s guest post is by Lindsay Bell.

Jason Konopinski is a funny guy.

He’s an even funnier guy when he uses words like ‘ding-danged,’ as he did in a recent Facebook post.

To quote: “Bloggers, for all that is good and holy, COPYEDIT YOUR DING-DANGED POSTS.”

While that status update sparked some great chatter around ‘writers – vs – authors’ and whether any monkey with a typewriter can publish a book these days, it boiled down to one undeniable fact: Writers – any writers – need editors.

Blame Your Brain

According to The National Geographic, our brains are hardwired to make sense of what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste, and (this is important) it’s hardwired to fill in missing pieces with whatever our expectations suggest should be there. It’s evolution, baby. And it makes it very difficult to edit one’s own work.

As mentioned above, that’s why those ‘if you can read this {gobbledygook}…’ posts are so much fun. When you attempt to self-edit, your brain automatically relies on hundreds of thousands of years of wiring. Nine times out of 10 your brain will ‘see’ your grammar, spelling, or verbiage as correct, even if it isn’t. Your brain already knows what it’s looking for; it wrote it in the first place! D’uh.

It’s not that hard to counteract these unconscious brain corrections. One little trick I use is to read my work backwards, and from bottom to top. This is a great way to see spelling errors and the like, because your mind isn’t making sense of these seemingly random words. However, it doesn’t help you correct odd turns of phrase, or things such as punctuation errors.

Mistakes Cost Money

That said, there are many other reasons why a great editor is a treasure to have on standby.

MarketingProfs shared a fascinating tidbit from the UK. After a spelling error was corrected at tightsplease.co.uk, the online retailer’s revenue per visitor doubled. In this case, poorly written copy clearly registered, consciously or not, as the potential for shoddy business practices.

An experienced editor understands everything has a voice, and whether you’re writing for a brand, magazine, newspaper or corporate blog, he/she will a) know that voice intimately and b) ensure continuity of that voice.

This is extremely important as your most loyal customers/readers will be expecting consistent, quality content. They won’t appreciate The National Enquirer if they are expecting The New York Times.

What an Editor Brings to the Table

  • Editors watch out for the basics such as awkward run-on sentences, grammatical and spelling errors, and other run-of-the-mill writing issues. But they also look for the overall structure of the piece, such as flow and readability. You might have buried the lead, mixed metaphors, or your third paragraph might be more suitable as your opener. Yes, your work might be changed, and if you can’t deal with that you shouldn’t be writing.
  • They keep their eyes peeled for accuracy, fairness, redundancy, and taste. Your editor will either fact check your work, or ask you to provide links to quoted articles. Of course, your work should already have been checked and rechecked prior to submitting it to your editor. Pay special attention to people’s names and titles.
  • An editor’s goal is to protect the writer (you) and by extension, the project or organization. A good editor will read through the eyes of their audience, and will never assume the audience knows what you’re talking about. So, if you make a big, bold, sweeping statement, expect to be challenged on it and be prepared to back it up with statistics/proof. If you can’t back it up, it shouldn’t be published.

I understand people are human beings who make typos and other mistakes. I want people to have fun with language, inject life into their writing, or even break a few old-school grammar rules. Most of us, these days, write as we speak, and none of us speak like our fifth grade grammar workbooks. But still, it seems like these days, we are seeing more quantity over quality. And no matter the pace of the world we all live in today, quality still matters.

Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and the newly adopted Hank, a vizsla and foxhound mix, who arrives very soon! 

About Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

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116 responses to “Why Your Editor is Your Friend”

    • belllindsay says:

      @jasonkonopinski Ding-danged silly goose! 🙂

      • @belllindsay In all seriousness, there were two tricks that I learned as an undergraduate with writing:
         
        – Read your writing aloud, paying particular attention to internal punctuation like commas and semi-colons. Pause at commas. Stop at periods. You’ll know immediately if your copy is clumsy.
         
        – Hand your copy over to someone else to proof and edit, especially if it’s a technical piece. You become desensitized to your own mistakes.

  1. ginidietrich says:

    Another tip I use often is to read your copy out loud. You’ll find, while your brain will add the missing information, your voice will not. As you know, I don’t have anyone editing my Spin Sucks blog posts so I occasionally will get a Twitter DM or FB message with something I’ve missed. But reading it out loud typically works pretty well for me.

  2. I’ve suffered under some heavy-handed editors of the years, too. There is nothing more frustrating than an editor taking liberties with a piece of writing and making it *worse*, but their name isn’t in the byline.

  3. KateFinley says:

    #1 Apparently reading out loud is the technique of choice (see below comments from @ginidietrich  and @jasonkonopinski )
    #2 has Rebecca Amy Todd seen this tight website?
    #3 Why, for all that is good in the world, would you direct me to such a site in the middle of the workday? I’m going to be staring at tights for minutes on end now … goodness.
     
    Finally, great point and well-written post!

    • belllindsay says:

      @kateupdates  @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski  Rebecca Amy Todd HA! I’m a tights fanatic!! 🙂 Glad you liked it Kate, thanks!

  4. Daren R. Williams says:

    Passive language. It cannot be tolerated 🙂

  5. belllindsay says:

    @dhelwig Thanks for the RT Debra! 🙂 @ginidietrich

  6. belllindsay says:

    @kmueller62 Thanks for the share Ken! 🙂 @ginidietrich @SpinSucks

  7. belllindsay says:

    @jantworth Thanks for sharing the piece! 🙂 @SpinSucks

  8. ExtremelyAvg says:

    There is another benefit of hiring a top notch editor…self-improvement.
     
    Editing is expensive and the more mistakes one makes, the more one’s editor needs to do to fix it. So, it only makes sense, as an author, to attempt to improve.
     
    For me, the most difficult area has been the comma. It is a tricky little bit of punctuation.
     
    I’m working on the edits for my third Henry Wood Detective novel and have hired Erin Feldman. We agreed that I would send her the manuscript in sections. This meant I could see what sort of mistakes I was making and learn from the process before sending her the next bit.
     
    Erin does one thing that I love. She highlights and leaves a comment for each problem. So instead of simply respelling a word correctly, she only says, “spelling”. It allowed me to look at each individual problem and try to figure out the mistake.  For every hour she spent editing the first section, I spent two hours carefully going over the errors.
     
    There were plenty of them, too. In 9,300 words, Erin identified 581 things to look at, and many of them were comma related. Some of the problem dealt with spelling out numbers. And there were a few with regards to my habit of capitalizing “Sir”.
     
    By the time I was done I had seen some patterns in my mistakes and went back through the next section (9500 words).
     
    When I got section two back, I had reduced the number of mistakes from 581/9300 words to 446/9500. I improved.
     
    Writing is fun. Editing is a challenge. Publishing a quality work is hard. Having a great editor by your side makes it easier and less scary.

    • belllindsay says:

      @ExtremelyAvg I love that!! And that you actually *want* to learn from your mistakes. Many people would prefer to just ignore, and pay someone to deal with them. Great job Brian!! 😀

    • dwaynealicie says:

      @ExtremelyAvg I completely understand your difficulty with commas! I think I have learned the rules 10 times over, but I seem to have a mental block around them. They give me the agita.

      • ExtremelyAvg says:

        @dwaynealicie The thing about the comma, just like any part of grammar or punctuation, it can still be messed up.  The rule that I know the best…
         
        1) When two independent clauses are separated by a conjunction, it requires a comma before the conjunction.
         
        Of the fifteen rules that one is my favorite because I mastered it first. That being said, I still sometimes miss that comma, but at least, now, I know what is correct.
         
        No matter how polished I become at writing clean copy, it will always have mistakes. An Editor will always be needed. When I get a little bit more financially secure, I’ll probably hire two.

        • @ExtremelyAvg  I love that you’ve hired erinmfeldman . 😀

        • Erin F. says:

          @jasonkonopinski  @ExtremelyAvg  I love that he’s hired me, too! I’m having fun. He says he’s having fun, too.

        • Erin F. says:

          @ExtremelyAvg  @dwaynealicie It’s natural, I suppose, but I find myself scurrying for my grammar handbook to ensure I have the rules right when I’m editing. Some things, though…some things remain an agony. Essential and non-essential clauses, for instance.

        • dwaynealicie says:

          @Erin F.  @ExtremelyAvg I totally had to go look up essential and non-essential clauses just now!  : )

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @dwaynealicie  @Erin F. I still look it up on a somewhat frequent basis, and yet, continue to make mistakes.
           
          When I was in 8th grade, my teacher, Satan (Mrs. Johnson) started my hatred of writing that lasted up until three years ago.
           
          We were talking about nouns and she said, “They are a person, place, or thing.” I understood the person and place component, but my logical brain told me, “Hey, words are things, so all words are nouns.”
           
          I wasn’t being a smart-ass. It was how my brain processed things and I couldn’t get past it.

        • Erin F. says:

          @dwaynealicie  @ExtremelyAvg I’m maybe or maybe not sorry? 😉

        • Erin F. says:

          @ExtremelyAvg  @dwaynealicie I hate teachers like that! Mine was a piano teacher. I never hated the piano, but she killed a lot of the love I had for playing. I’ve slowly regained it, but it’s hard to make the time to practice.
           
          We’re human. We make mistakes. Besides, the English language is tricksy.

        • dwaynealicie says:

          @Erin F.  @ExtremelyAvg I’m very thankful your comment prompted me to go look them up!  Now I know that rule, at least.

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @Erin F.  @dwaynealicie I imagine that if I had understood what she meant back then, it may have altered where I ended up in life. Who knows, I may not have written a word. So, I think it worked out for the best.

        • belllindsay says:

          @ExtremelyAvg  @dwaynealicie I remember reading an article by a writer who said “I don’t even know all those rules – clauses, participles, etc., I never learned them in school – I just know what sounds right and what doesn’t.” – and I said YES!! Finally, someone else just like me!! 🙂
          (just don’t tell @ginidietrich )

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @belllindsay  @dwaynealicie  @ginidietrich I’ve lived on my wits with grammar, but when it came to the comma, I was under the impression there was one rule…1) place a comma where James Lipton would pause as he reads your Nobel winning prose Inside The Actors Studio. (I’m assuming it had been turned into a film that won six Oscars after the ten year run on Broadway and eleven Tony awards)
           
          Apparently THAT is not the rule.

        • belllindsay says:

          @ExtremelyAvg  @dwaynealicie  @ginidietrich Again though, you’re not far off the mark: I think ‘prose’ is evolving – and by prose I also mean the acceptance of some of the rule-breaking. We write as we speak – and part of that is natural pauses, etc., (eg commas!) that might not follow the hard core rules of grammar. Am I making any sense at all here?

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @belllindsay  @dwaynealicie  @ginidietrich I feel the same way about breaking rules in grammar as I do in art. If one knows all the rules, then break away. They went through the trouble to learn them they’ve earned the right.
           
          Henri Matisse, before he did paper cut out…all the way back to his 1906 show where his work was described as reminding one reviewer of “wild beasts”, mastered all the elements of painting before choosing to head towards a more minimalist style.
           
          Those who think they can splash paint randomly, on a canvas and call themselves Kandinsky, well, they bother me.
           
          I may one day take liberties with the rules, but not before I know why I’m breaking them…and that their being broken in the first place.

        • Erin F. says:

          @ExtremelyAvg  @dwaynealicie I’ve learned it’s best not to dwell on the “what if’s.” 🙂

        • Erin F. says:

          @belllindsay  @ExtremelyAvg  @dwaynealicie  @ginidietrich Is that Joan Didion? It sounds like something she said.

        • dwaynealicie says:

          @Erin F.  @belllindsay  @ExtremelyAvg  @ginidietrich Makes perfect sense to me, Lindsay! Change is afoot, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although I do love cracking open Thoreau and seeing his wit shine through — and I think I can see it because he was writing within a similar framework.
           
          Here is the Joan Didion…
           
          “Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.”
           
          At some point, the rules are all there to help, and when you pay attention to them, they can elevate your writing. Of course, if you pay too much attention to them they will cripple you.

        • belllindsay says:

          @dwaynealicie  @Erin F.  @ExtremelyAvg  @ginidietrich YES! I love that Didion quote. 🙂

    • @ExtremelyAvg You should have saved this comment for a blog post!

  9. WindMiner says:

    Well said, Lindsay, and absolutely true.
     
    The one really good thing that’s coming from the blogging trend is that more businesses are understanding their need for professional editorial support. More important, the discipline of writing and editing is finally regaining a level of respect it once had.
     
    It’s an interesting challenge, really, when we take time to reflect on it. Most individuals who want to blog or start a Web site — or fix their car, repair their roof, cut their hair — know they lack the skills and experience they need to do the job. But when it comes to writing, far too many think differently.
     
    I’ve found that It’s very common for native speakers and readers of the English language to also think that they can very easily craft exquisite and meaningful sentences, paragraphs, articles, papers, etc. Only after they attempt the task do they realize a smidgen of the challenge they face. So, yes, I think it’s fortunate for writer and editors that many non-editorial people are now blogging: The inexperienced are getting exposed to the multitude of challenges that writers and editors must resolve while planning, drafting, and revising their work.

    • belllindsay says:

      @WindMiner Yes, yes and yes. Writing is hard!! It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but holy-moly how many times have you stared at a blank page/screen, or rewritten a sentence or title ten times because it just wasn’t working!? I’ve had people tell me that as long as the content is good, they overlook grammatical errors and the like. I am the opposite. I think errors (not the odd typo or error, we’re only human) devalue the content and devalue the person creating it.

  10. allenmireles says:

    Couldn’t agree with this post more @belllindsay, my dear Maritimer. I am absolutely filled with gratitude each time one of you works my words over and knocks them into improved shape!

  11. girl_onthego says:

    Sorry to be a twerp on this – “newspaper ,or corporate blog, he/she will” …check the first comma. 😉

    • belllindsay says:

      @girl_onthego Spacing errors don’t count. 😉

    • @girl_onthego I have one that’s even twerpier: “and none of us speak like our fifth grade grammar workbooks.” UGGHH @belllindsay , get with it!!  None of us — in other words, not ONE of us, SPEAKS. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard..
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      ,
      ,
      ,
      ,
      (j/k, I don’t even know if this is right w/o looking it up…)

      • belllindsay says:

        @barrettrossie  @girl_onthego Hey Barrett, what part of “I understand people are human beings who make typos and other mistakes. I want people to have fun with language, inject life into their writing, or even break a few old-school grammar rules.” are you not getting…!?!? LOL I’m sure you’re correct. But sheeeesh!! 😉

      • Erin F. says:

        @barrettrossie  You are right. Just thought you’d like to know.

  12. Doug Phillips says:

    Ending sentences with prepositions is to die for! 🙂

  13. Arment Dietrich, Inc. says:

    Gah, these are my two worst habits too!! ^yp

  14. Danny Brown says:

    Optimizing images for blog post width is also crucial. Maybe there should be a job for that. 😉
     
    The editors for samfiorella and I over at Pearson (and the contracted peer editors for pre-production editing) were a huge help for us in making the points we were making more direct and punchy. You’re right, editors are gold – good ones, anyhoo.

  15. ExtremelyAvg says:

    Okay, I have to share one of the mistakes Erin found. It is sort of awesome.
     
    “The Berlin unit’s report should also be arriving by currier soon.”  <The correct word is courier.
     
    Currier is a word, but it means: a person who dresses and colors leather after it is tanned. Obviously, that was not what I intended. It was a simple spelling error. Now, my work is slightly better and I have a new word in my vocabulary that I’m just dying to use correctly.
     
    Agnes said, “He was a fine lad and a skilled currier.”

  16. belllindsay says:

    @SuperbContent Thanks for the share! 🙂

  17. belllindsay says:

    @joeldon Thanks for the share Joel. 🙂 @SpinSucks

  18. bdorman264 says:

    Can you get paid doing this? Maybe I want to be an editor when I grow up; I can read….most words at least……..
     
    I’m persnickety about typos, but some people don’t like to be corrected all.the.time. That’s when I break out the Kung Fu grip however……..

  19. jasonkonopinski says:

    @ginidietrich @belllindsay THAT’S MY LINE!!!

  20. “But still, it seems like these days, we are seeing more quantity over quality. And no matter the pace of the world we all live in today, quality still matters.”  @belllindsay , this can’t be said enough.
     
    Letting yourself ignore quality for reasons of convenience is a slippery slope.

    • belllindsay says:

      @barrettrossie Don’t you find Barrett that there are more and more posts and articles that read like they’re just being pumped out of a factory…?? I do.

      • susansilver says:

        @belllindsay  @barrettrossie I think SEO has a real issue in that it can reward you for publishing a ton of content in a short period of time.  It encourages low quality work while trying to tell us to set a quality standard.

  21. ginidietrich says:

    @AlisonWordsmith LOL!!

  22. belllindsay says:

    @JuliaRosien Thanks for the share Julia! xo @ginidietrich

  23. belllindsay says:

    @AlisonWordsmith Cheers Allison, thanks for the share! #proudNewBrunswickerhere 🙂 cc @ginidietrich

  24. rdopping says:

    Ok. You do know after reading this I will never write another thing. Between you and @Danny Brown optimizing images for blog width I have lost all confidence to do anything myself. So, how much?

  25. AmyMccTobin says:

    I cannot proof my own work – my eye sees what I think should be there. With that being said, @susansilver and I have had this discussion repeatedly regarding blog posts.  What IF there is a typo?  We can’t all have editors for our blogs… and sometimes we make mistakes. I think websites, prominent blogs like this one, business literature etc. should have higher stands.  The small business person blogging for their small audience may not be able to hire an editor.

    • belllindsay says:

      @AmyMccTobin  @susansilver I think what I’m talking about here though is consistency – yes errors happen (I had some in this piece! LOL) – and that plays back to the “we are only human” part – but when there are consistent typos or larger grammatical errors I think that’s a problem. Dare I say that it’s even MORE important for SMBs as they are the ones scratching for clients/customers. They have to show reliability and quality – maybe more than your massive conglomerate with a bazillion brand fans.

  26. susansilver says:

    Lindsey, I really like what you said in point three. I do feel that editors are there to protect me as a writer. I get that I have problems. I don’t think it makes me a terrible writer at all, errors happen.
     
     @AmyMccTobin has a point too. Blogs get rewarded for speed, consistency, and quantity of posts. A small business is not going to be able to afford someone to look over everything they write.

  27. joelaauto says:

    @seanmcginnis @ginidietrich And, sadly, a vanishing breed 🙁

  28. belllindsay says:

    @vedo Thanks for the RT Richie! 🙂 cc @shonali @ginidietrich

  29. belllindsay says:

    @TonyZambito Cheers Tony, appreciate the share! @shonali @ginidietrich

  30. belllindsay says:

    @chadjthiele Thanks for the share Chad! 🙂 @ginidietrich @SpinSucks

  31. belllindsay says:

    @shonali Thanks for sending that out Shonali! 🙂 Also, guest post soon…? You have my email! cc @ginidietrich

  32. belllindsay says:

    @RTRViews Thanks for the share Rick! 🙂 cc @SpinSucks

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