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Why writers need editors

Sally-Anne Watson Kane . Sunday, March 06, 2016 . Comments
Why writers need editors

Writing and editing require very different skills and writers and editors have very different roles. Writers and editors are both required to produce a written work whether it be a report, submission or publication; for the purposes of this article we will call the written work a 'document'.

Writers and writing

After the writer has written the first draft of the document, they then self-edit the document once, twice or multiple times and continue working on the document until they feel it has been perfected to the best of their ability as a writer. However:

  • there will be mistakes in grammar, spelling and/or punctuation
  • the design and formatting may not be consistent throughout the document
  • the document may have not been presented in a way that best meets the needs or expectations of the intended audience
  • the writer is very familiar with every word and phrase in the document which will have prevented them from noticing small mistakes
  • the writer's emotional or personal investment in the document may mean that they have not been able to be objective or ruthless enough to make all the changes that need to be made (such as deleting whole passages or even chapters that detract from the overall document).

At this stage, the writer needs an editor.

Editors and editing

There are several stages of editing required prior to the proofreading stage including structural editing, line editing and copy editing. Depending on the type of document, different editors may be delegated to complete the different stages of editing or only one editor may be involved in the whole editing process prior to proofreading stage.

Before editing the document, the editor needs to confirm the guidelines that will be used. In Australia, all government publications as well as many other types of publications need to be edited in accordance with the (Australian government) Style Manual which is now in its 6th Edition, and this manual can be used as a guide to editing all Australian publications unless there is another style manual or guideline that needs to be used. The writer may have their own preferences in regard to some aspects of style such as capitalising certain words, or using a particular dot point style, and the editor will need to negotiate with the writer in regard to any consistencies between the writer's preferences and the manual being used.

Before commencing, the editor also needs to commence a 'style sheet' which is a list of rules for the publication. The style sheet might include a certain choice of spelling for a word, the capitilisation of certain words, and fonts to be used for various levels of text. The editor refers to the style sheet as well as the manual to ensure the same rules are applied consistently throughout the document. All the editors involved as well as the proofreader refers to the style sheet and manual throughout the editing and proofreading process.

The role of the editor (or editors) is to:  

  • fact-check information in the text, captions and references (if relevant)
  • ensure the language, style and design of the document meets the needs or expectations of the intended audience and if not, recommend changes to improve those aspects; this may include moving chapters to different positions, deleting chapters or sections, or recommending that the writer produce an extra chapter or rewrite certain sections
  • correct the document to ensure that language, style and formatting are consistent
  • correct grammar, spelling and punctuation and ensure the language is clear, consistent and according to the appropriate guidelines (for example, the Australian Style Manual, or the guidelines of particular publishers)
  • consult with the writer if major improvements, corrections, clarifications by the writer, or deletions are required and in doing so, be prepared to listen to and negotiate with your client before making any major changes to the document
  • ensure the document is edited to the level required for proofreading to commence; that is, that all the above tasks have been completed to the best of the editor's ability.

The information in this article reflects my main area of expertise and experience which is editing non-fiction publications, corporate reports, submissions and policy documents that require several stages of editing prior to proofreading and publication.

I will write an article about editing works of fiction (novels, poetry, short stories) at a later date.

This article is based on my own experience over the past 20 years, editing and proofreading reports, policy documents, and my own and others' publications; self-publishing mainly non-fiction hardcopy publications; and publishing my website and articles online. Keep posted for future articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading.

Copyright Sally-Anne Watson Kane, On Time Typing. Please seek my permission prior to reproducing this article in any way but feel free to link directly to this page if you wish to use this content - thanks!

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