What’s an Editor and How Do They Make Our Writing Better?

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Everyone who creates content needs somebody to review their content for relevant feedback. And that’s the answer to what’s an editor?

They change words because they like another word better. Not because it actually makes a difference to the audience or impacts that story’s performance.

I even once had an editor who admitted that he made changes because “it’s my job.” That was true for the moment until they were no longer in that role.

Preferential editors with perceived or actual power over writers are part of a group of today’s content marketers that I call obstructionist marketers. Marketers in that group add unnecessary processes and barriers and, in general, slow things down. Many times to a halt. Usually, it’s all unnecessary, and they end up asking why it hasn’t worked yet! Well, because we’ve been busy slowing things to a halt.

Read next: How to create a minimal viable workflow in content marketing

They don’t like something? They’ll schedule 48 committee and sub-committee meetings, and by the time you are done, you forgot what prompted the meetings. They wrap you in a bubble of busyness.

On the flip side, I’ve worked with fantastic editors. Ones that made my work better. Much better. Ones that saved me from publishing embarrassing mistakes. Ones that explained the difference in similar words to me. We just have to make sure to work with those editors.

Read next: Is your content performance culture ready for strategic writing?

What’s an editor to do?

Great editors:

  1. Make the work better.
  2. Find a way to get it published.
  3. Teach their writers when teaching is actually needed.
  4. Explain their edits when necessary. (For example: This is not in line with the strategy. Fixing a one-off typo doesn’t need a memo explaining it was fixed!)
  5. Break down barriers – instead of putting them up.
  6. Are not rude.
  7. Never look down on writers, which is measured by how they talk with writers and how writers perceive that communication.
  8. Ensure the absence of plagiarism
  9. Ensure the absence of plagiarism

I’m all for high-quality content, but one person’s preference isn’t the deciding factor here. I remember days when I was part of a project that took forever, and when the piece was finally in that perfect stage, it was published.

And then we called a committee meeting to launch an investigation into why nobody was reading it. It was perfect, after all. Forgive my snark.

Hire a copyeditor now!

They weren’t reading it because we missed the following:

  • The window of opportunity when people actually cared about it.
  • That our “perfect” wasn’t the audience’s “perfect.”
  • That distribution was just as important as the production.
  • That our process needed to evolve.
  • Admitting some people’s egos was the barrier.

If you edit to make content more relevant to the audience and catch mistakes – thank you. Keep going. Stay audience-centric.

If you edit and only think of yourself – stop.

Editing for purpose

One way to do that is when you edit is to actually edit for a specific purpose. For example, copy on the web shouldn’t be at a super high reading level. Somewhere between seventh and eighth would be preferred.

As long as edits make the reading level simpler – no, not dumbed down – it can help the content.

How do we know what the level is? Some content management systems have that reading built-in. You can also turn it on in Word, like this, according to Microsoft:

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected.
  4. Select Show readability statistics.

If the reason for it is to make it more readable, it’s never a preferential edit. In WordPress, I use the Yoast plugin to tell me if my content is on track.


Yoast Plugin: Writing for People and Search

Using Grammarly

What’s an editor? They help with bad wording

Rob and Teresa Reinalda share many examples of horrible – or at least unclear writing – in “Why Editors Drink.” Check it out to open your eyes or get a reminder of some of the things that can drive editors – and, in turn some readers – crazy. Not just because they are preferences but also because it’s not great writing.

What does an editor do? They look at the data

I don’t mind having and giving my opinion at all. In fact, I do that quite frequently. But opinion without fact or something to back it up is usually useless. What makes one opinion right over another? It’s really the facts behind it. Of course, there can be different versions of the same story (aka perceptions), but many things are backed by data, including in healthcare, productivity, and digital marketing.

This hit home when I was talking with somebody about their digital marketing efforts and made a recommendation. We kept talking about it and at one point, they said:

“But you don’t like if we do that.”

I responded: “It’s not that I don’t like it, but I know that it doesn’t work based on these other times I tried it.”

Sometimes, it’s perhaps less about the data, and it’s just a fact that a sentence was super wordy!

For example, there are all kinds of things that I don’t like, but I know that work. For example:

  • Some especially annoying ad tactics
  • Popups
  • (Floating) social media share buttons on the left
  • Bulleted lists
  • Short paragraphs
  • Bolded text

And the list goes on and on.

It can be a balancing act, too. Doing something that is against our own likes but that works.

But it comes down to how we know something shouldn’t be an option. Personal preference is okay for things in my personal life. I prefer to sit on this side of the couch over that side, but that’s different. In digital marketing, we are trying to accomplish a goal, so that’s why it’s important to review results, learn, and adjust.

An example you might be familiar with:

We have to change a graphic/website/whatever because the boss doesn’t like it. 

And why doesn’t the boss like it?

Who knows. He didn’t tell us. He doesn’t have to. He’s the boss.

Not liking something is really not a reason not to produce something for a specific audience.

Our own personal preference might not even be our actual audience’s preference.

So when somebody says, “It needs to change because I don’t like it.”

Gently ask, “Can you tell me more? Why is this not working?”

First impressions can be very helpful, and personal preferences aren’t going away – because, well, they are our preferences.  But we should remember that personal likes or dislikes might not reflect what will work best for a specific audience.

Certainly, some audience-centric decisions are educated guesses. Even when we have data they can be. But at the very least, when we put the audience first and verbally discuss what might be best for the audience, we are trying to be audience-centric versus organization-centric.

How to find an editor?

If there is enough content creation happening, an in-house editor can help. And pay off. If there isn’t enough, you might consider hiring freelance editors to help you proofread and offer feedback.

We all need editors and good ones for that matter. But being an editor shouldn’t be a power play. It should be a play of making content better, fostering content performance, and building great content experiences together.

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