Why You Need an Editor

For many writers, whether creative or technical, a visit to the Editor seems like a visit to the Principal’s office. It’s easy to see the Editor as someone who tells you how wrong you are or who tries to restrain your creativity. The truth is that a good Editor helps you achieve your vision if you will allow it.

If you are a Technical Writer working for a company, the Editor has many responsibilities. The easy part of an Editor’s job is to enforce corporate standards as well as use of proper grammar and spelling. I say easy not to dismiss the work involved, but because a good Editor will be well-versed in these things and able to suggest corrections fairly quickly. You do not define these rules, but you must work within them, and the Editor is there to assure you do so.

An often overlooked job of the Editor, however, is that of ensuring the writer’s message comes through. The names and actual subject matter are omitted to protect the innocent… but here’s an example of a situation that demonstrates how much an Editor adds to a completed work.

The general process at a place where I worked as a Technical Writer was to complete a couple of drafts of a user’s guide and when it was considered technically accurate, schedule an Editor review before sending the document out for a final review and approval for publication. This meant the Editor was usually seeing a document that I believed was complete, accurate, and hopefully without errors. If I had done my job correctly, I should see few suggestions for change from the Editor.

As an aside, I find working in corporate environments there seem to generally be three categories of Technical Writers in terms of how they apply Editor feedback: 1. Writers who make all suggested corrections without question, 2. Writers who choose to ignore some suggested corrections without discussion, 3. Writers who discuss the feedback with the Editor to be sure they are both on the same page. I consider myself to be the third type.

On one particular occasion, my Editor had considerably marked up a particular procedure for installing a piece of hardware. I read through my original writing and her markup several times and came to the conclusion that I did not know what to do. To put it simply, her suggestions were completely incorrect and were not at all possible given the hardware as I knew it.

So I approached her and explained the situation just as I have here, and I added that while her suggestions were incorrect it was also clear to me that what I wrote was also incorrect. That she could read what I wrote and think what she did was a strong indication that what I had intended to convey was not getting through. I explained to my Editor what I was attempting to convey to the user, and then understanding what I had originally meant, she was better able to help me write what I needed.

I could have ignored her feedback and been wrong… or accepted her initial feedback blindly and also been wrong… but embracing the process and the point of having an Editor made for a stronger procedure in a better document. This is why you need an Editor.

In creative writing, unlike Technical Writing, you get to make more of the rules and can choose an Editor more tuned to the style you intend to write. Everything else I said above still applies, however. Interacting intelligently with your Editor will not just make your writing look good, but it will ensure the story you are intending to create is the one your readers will see when they read your book.

So, don’t view the Editor as some form of punishment. Your Editor is there to ensure you do the best work you are capable of producing. Interact with your Editor as much as possible with regards to feedback so that you both are on the same page. Your readers will thank you for it and you, in turn, should thank your Editor.

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