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Audrey Jamieson

Encouraging Coworkers to See the Benefits of Editing

Illustration of a bird's-eye view of four people in corporate attire working at desks that have been arranged into square shape with all the workers facing inward.
Illustration of a bird's-eye view of four people in corporate attire working at desks that have been arranged into square shape with all the workers facing inward.
Copyright: quinky

Working as an in-house editor often means you will be editing the work of untrained writers. You may come across colleagues who don’t want to be writing in the first place, so how do you convince them that your editing services are valuable?

Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes people reject edits and say, “Scrap the whole thing.” 

The first rule of editing is that you must leave your ego at the door. Sometimes keeping the peace is more valuable than being correct. Depending on your role, the situation could be entirely out of your hands.

If you are working with someone who seems like they can be convinced, there are a few steps you can take to demonstrate the value of editing.

Pick your battles

I have learned much about the way copy editors are viewed outside of our industry. Grammar gremlins and pedants, some say. Well, this may be true. To a certain extent.

But our job is to worry about the fine details so others don’t have to. And sometimes what seems like a small detail to the writer may have drastic consequences.

“Wait, is it ATP or ADP?”

I was recently editing a government application where the name of a department was listed incorrectly.

You can highlight these types of edits and explain the potential consequences. Errors can affect many people after you’ve looked at a document, including everyone from designers, proofreaders, advisors and managers to clients and investors. An error might mean an application is rejected, a scientific paper loses all credibility or a company doesn’t receive funding. 

When you draw attention to these consequential errors you’ve caught, it solidifies your own credibility as a second set of eyes to polish a work to its highest potential. And this is infinitely more important than tracking changes for every incorrect semicolon.

Leave a note to the writer

When working as an in-house editor, you don’t always have the luxury of developing a relationship with your writer. There may be several steps between you and them in the workflow pipeline. Therefore, you become the faceless gremlin leaving red marks all over the document they thought was ready to go.

Explaining every choice you made in detail can get annoying and overwhelming. Instead, a brief explanation at the top of the document can provide an understanding of your intent as the editor. Make sure this is the first thing the writer sees when they open the document. 

For example:

Hi writer, this document is looking great! Thank you for spending time on those citations; that saved a lot of work. I just noticed a few areas that gave me pause, and since this reading is introducing first-year students to these concepts, I highlighted some potential rewordings for clarity.

My editing philosophy is to always help writers and their writing reach the highest potential, but this goal may change based on your niche. Perhaps your intent is to make sure a scientific paper gets published, so all your edits are in service of that goal. Or maybe the approval of a grant application determines whether your company can continue a project, and you want to communicate the importance of flawless writing.

Critique the work, not the writer

I’ve seen the defensiveness that builds in the eyes of writers as they hear all the things they should have done better from the start. While editing, I make it very explicit that I am not critiquing the writer. This technique often leads to passive comments (I tell my writers to do as I say, not as I do), but saying “this paragraph can be shortened” rather than “you should shorten this paragraph” makes a huge difference.

I also use the pronoun “we” in comments to help the writer feel less isolated and targeted, e.g., “We need to see more development here.” No one works in a vacuum, so using “we” reinforces that your edits are in service of the entire team.

And bringing it back to consequences, I often use “the reader” or “the audience” as my sentence subject. Discussing the effect of the writing helps keep the editing process focused on publication and reception rather than what you as the editor think is best.

For example:

Would the reader already have the prerequisite information to understand this, or could a short paragraph above provide the audience with an overview/some background knowledge?

These are some of my tactics for smoothing out the editing process when colleagues show resistance to help. Have you experienced coworkers who did not want to be edited?

Do you have any strategies for demonstrating the value of your editing?

We would love to hear your experiences and advice in the comments!

___

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10 Comments on “Encouraging Coworkers to See the Benefits of Editing”

  • Kate Merriman

    says:

    Thank you for this helpful discussion, Audrey. I would add one comment based on my experience in scholarly publishing. When I’m editing a book-length manuscript, if I suspect that the author will not be comfortable with my editing, I’ll send a sample edited chapter along with a letter explaining my choices. Adding this step may save one or both of us a lot of time.

    best, Kate

    • That’s a great point. When I am doing freelance work, I do a sample edit to assess the total cost of the project, which also allows the client to see what my process looks like. But this can be a great tool for in-house editing as well!

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    This article is brilliant. All editors should read it, in order to get along better with the authors of the documents they edit, avoid being «pedants,» and focus on the end goal: the reader.

    • Thank you so much! I find focusing on the end goal also helps me stick to the required level of editing. I find it easy to start getting into line edits when I’m supposed to be looking at the bigger picture, but asking «what does the reader need» keeps me on the right path.

  • Lots of great suggestions here. I go in with the same techniques when I’m editing medical-journal articles for multilingual authors, and this produces happy authors and authors whose research papers get published. *And* it produces authors who are very much inclined to come back for more projects.

    • Audrey Jamieson

      says:

      You are so right! As the editor, I want to encourage people to keep writing, not discourage. And it has the added benefit of creating repeat clients!

  • Stephanie Watterson

    says:

    100%! If we critique constructively, instead of just criticizing, we open more space for dialogue and conversation.

  • Kristin

    says:

    So insightful. Thank you for the practical tools we in-house editors can apply immediately to our relationships with writers.

  • When I worked as a Test Development Specialist for the government, I was initially very resistant to changes suggested by the in-house editor. Because I put a lot of thought and care into my wording in my specialized form of writing, but mostly because I thought I knew better, I initially received her input as adversarial rather than helpful. I have a clear memory of her introducing me to Strunk and White, so pretty sure in retrospect, I did NOT know better. 🙂
    Her ego-less, gentle, ‘just a suggestion’ approach, and the contrasting pickiness with which my work was greeted by various stakeholder committees/supervisors my work had to negotiate, eventually convinced me the in-house editor is your friend, not an enemy. I wince thinking how much of an ass I must have been starting out, but it wasn’t that long before I was converted and sought out her input and help bring others into the fold.
    The moral here is, even the most resistant, most annoying, most self-righteous staffer can be brought over in short order by following the advice offered above, and once converted, can become strong allies in ensuring editing is given its due within the dept.

    • Thank you so much for your insight. I don’t always get to follow up with colleagues who did not want to be edited, so it’s good to know that sticking to kind, genuine, thoughtful editing will work.

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