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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 ‘manuscript’ or ‘publication’.

Writers

After the writer has written the first draft of the manuscript, they then self-edit it once, twice or multiple times and continue working on it 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 manuscript
  • the manuscript may have not been presented in a way that best meets the needs or expectations of the intended audience
  • the writer is familiar with every word and phrase in the manuscript which will have prevented them from noticing small mistakes
  • the writer’s emotional or personal investment in the manuscript 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 publication).

That is why the writer needs an editor.

Editors

There are several stages of editing required prior to the graphic design and proofreading stage. They include structural editing, line editing and copy editing. For more information go to: The three stages of editing.

Before editing the document, the editor needs to clarify the manual or guidelines that will be used, decide on any style issues not covered in the manual or that need to be highlighted, and commence a style sheet. All the editors involved as well as the graphic designer and proofreader then refer to the manual and style sheet while editing, designing and proofreading, to make sure the style is consistent throughout the publication.

Manual

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. The Manual can be used as a guide to editing any Australian publication although you may choose to use another style manual or guideline for your publication.

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 consult with and advise the writer in regard to any potential problems that may be caused by the writer’s style preferences.

Style sheet

The style sheet is a list of rules for the publication. It might include a certain choice of spelling for a word, the capitilisation of certain words, and the fonts to be used for various headings or sections of text. If any agreed rules in the style sheet contradict the guidelines in the Manual, it is the style sheet rules that must be followed. The editor refers to both style sheet and manual to ensure the rules are applied consistently throughout the publication.

The editor’s role

The role of the editor (or editors) across all the stages of editing 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, as well as the style sheet)
  • 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 (i.e. consistent in style and no errors) for graphic design and proofreading.

For more information about this topic see: When can you self-edit and when do you need an editor? and Why is editing so expensive?

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; and publishing my website and articles online. On Time Typing’s other editors ha extensive experience in editing fiction publications. Keep posted for future articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading.


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