How Editors Help Writers

More about the writer-editor relationships

There are a few stereotypes about editors that I want to clear up first. Editors are not all snobby, dominating nerds. They can also write well, and usually enjoy writing for pleasure. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s examine exactly what an editor does:

  • Makes certain a document is consistent with its information
  • Checks for formatting errors
  • Considers the best organization for the document
  • Rephrases sentences to make them clearer
  • Reduces or adds words in order to make the writing efficient
  • Corrects grammatical and punctuation errors
  • Considers tone, voice, and style, and corrects it if necessary
  • Consults on the development of drafts

An editor is not a word janitor, but rather a consultant. Editors are supposed to have more knowledge about writing than writers. That doesn’t mean editors necessarily write better than the writers they work with; however, it does mean they should understand the inner workings of what makes writing stand out. You can also think of an editor as a sounding board: someone to hand your writing to to get an honest opinion about the quality of your writing.

Below are the following reasons why every writer needs an editor, based on the aforementioned bullet list:

Makes Certain a Document is Consistent with Its Information

Writers love to write, but they don’t necessarily enjoy checking if all the information included in their texts are consistent. For instance, maybe you used “USA” one time in your paper, and then later on, you used “U.S.A.” This might seem like a minor flaw to someone not interested in writing or editing, however these small errors can make all the difference when it comes to impressing upon the reader. If your reader starts to notice many inconsistencies in your writing, he or she will not take you seriously.

It is not just in initials. You might have said a character in your novel is 11 years old, but the dialog you write for him or her sounds like they are speaking with a 40-year-old mind. Consistency also has to do with realism.

Another instance of inconsistency is when you give a figure or statistic, and contradict it later on in the text. For example, you might have written that there are 10 districts in Columbia, but subsequently you write that there are 11. When you are writing informational writing, it is especially important to be keen on keeping everything you present true and credible.

Checks for Formatting Errors

Formatting is the bane of most writers. The majority of writers either don’t have the knowledge or desire to work out the details of formatting. There is the occasional writer that takes pride in knowing a plethora of information about formatting, and believes oneself to be a formatting robot. However, no one is a robot—even editors. Editors like myself are constantly looking up information about formatting to make certain we format a document correctly.

It is a tricky subject, not just because of its tedious nature. Formatting deals with margins, title pages, citations, reference lists, annotations, and all other aspects of a document you have to deal with in the hours before you submit your paper or manuscript. Though most editors are familiar with all citation styles, they still check the official guides to make sure that what they know is correct. An arrogant editor never helped anyone.

Writers: you should check with your editor beforehand about whether he or she will look over formatting. Some editors primarily focus on content and not technicalities. If you want your editor to pay attention to the formatting of your document, then address that in your conversations or plans.

Considers the Best Organization for the Document

Each piece of writing has a flow, and a set way to convey the information at hand. However, the way a writer writes may or may not be the most pleasant and communicative for readers. Editors make certain that the writer’s ideas are expressed in a proper sequence to create the correct comprehension for the reader.

Editors can rearrange sentences and paragraphs, or even delete or add information to make certain the main ideas are properly expressed. Sometimes, changing a paragraph here and there can make a significant difference in how the reader perceives the information you have written about. It does not matter how pretty you think your writing is: if readers cannot understand your ideas well, there is no point in producing such writing.

It depends largely on the state of your writing. With each draft you make, the organization changes. With a second draft, for instance, you might change the organization of your document entirely. However, in the later stages of a document, maybe only sentences will be rearranged.

Rephrases Sentences to Make Them Clearer

At times, we compose sentences that don’t seem to make sense, or that seem like they were written by an alien. It’s not a writer’s fault. Since a writer is inside his or her own bubble, he or she reads the sentence and believe it makes sense. But, to a reader, the sentence might seem like a conundrum inside a paradox.

Editors act as intelligent readers that guarantee all sentences are phrased naturally and in a flowing manner. Sometimes people enjoy writing with reverse syntax, or with a Victorian tone. This not only makes you seem like you have just started writing in English, it makes you seem pretentious. Don’t do it.

Reduces or Adds Words in Order to Make the Writing Efficient

Some writers write more than they need to, and some write less. It is an editor’s job to make sure a piece of writing fits the requirements of word count, and if the text covers the main ideas of the writer sufficiently within the given word count. Through the course of editing, an editor will take out or add words, respectively.

It is difficult for writers to delete text, as it feels like it is killing some of their creative output. However, an editor remains neutral, and sees text as it is. He or she cuts words or puts more in depending on the needs of the assignment. It is important to have this neutral eye, as often our biases as writers get in the way of improving a piece of writing.

Corrects Grammatical and Punctuation Errors

This is essentially a proofreader’s job. Being a word janitor is important in terms of improving presentation and comprehensibility. It is a strange thing that the human mind often misses basic errors in text, even after several readings. That is why an editor will read over a piece of writing a minimum of three times to catch all the miniscule mistakes.

These mistakes, though not major, become a significant issue when there are more than three per page. No matter how good of a writer you think you are, there are going to be at least three grammatical and punctuation errors per page in your first draft. It is just the natural way of writing: mistakes are always present in drafts. Also, some grammatical and punctuation mistakes are not that easily picked up on: some errors stem from the fact that a writer does not know the subtleties of grammar and punctuation. It is nothing to be ashamed of: in fact, most writers have a habit of making this or that grammatical and punctuation mistake. Even some famous writers are awful spellers. That is why they say that for every good writer, there is a good editor at his or her side.

Considers Tone, Voice, and Style, and Corrects It If Necessary

Each piece of writing requires its own tone, voice, and style. Say if you are writing a newspaper article, you will cater to the ideals of the newspaper in terms of the manner in which you write. An editor is a person that checks if you are abiding by these ideals. Each genre of writing requires different styles of writing. For instance, if you are writing an advertising text, you will not write like you would for a research essay. Writers must adapt their tone, voice, and style for each assignment they take on. However, that is not always easy to do. That is why editors step in.

The changes in this department are usually more suggestions rather than strict rules. Though, in some instances, some things can be corrected right away, such as contractions if they cannot be used in a specific piece of writing.

Consults on the Development of Drafts

Editors are also at hand to give answers to questions writers may have about how to develop their writing projects from one stage to another. In writing, there is brainstorming, outlining, researching, drafting, editing, proofreading, and finally publishing. Writers are not always adept at each stage, and editors can help bridge the gaps to smoothen the progress of a piece of writing.

Editors are invaluable people when it comes to the writing process. Editing brings out the best in a piece of writing, and writers should be aware of this fact. The writer-editor relationship should be one of mutual respect and communication. Without this relationship, a writer will have a much more difficult time producing work that will be admired and understood.