What Makes A Great Editor?

by Randy Murray on June 26, 2013

Copy editing is such an important task. Copy editors are rarely given enough credit or recognition, especially within businesses. But they play a vital role. If your organization doesn’t have one, or use one, you are placing yourself at risk AND it is likely that you are wasting money correcting errors and wrestling with endless revision cycles.

The best editors are somewhat selfless. The recognize that they’re working with someone else’s creation. They are not, as some call them, “grammar Nazis,” angry gnomes who growl and lash out at incorrect grammatical usage and obscure things that ordinary people simply don’t notice or care about. A great editor is laser-focused on shaping copy to make it WORK.

Why are grammar and punctuation important anyway? For one simple reason: to communicate clearly. Businesses need to communicate with their customers and relay important messages. Businesses need to attract and engage new people, people that they hope will become customers. Content marketing, regularly publishing LOTS of new things online, is a terrific way to do that. But it only works if that content doesn’t confuse, mislead, or put off the reader. To do that you’ll need great writers and editors.

Great editors aren’t frustrated writers. They are professionals who care about clear communication.

Gramatical errors in business materials are like a ding in a new car. These errors are jarring. They take readers out of the flow of reading the material. That is NOT what you want from a marketing perspective. Some errors are clear to everyone, but others can slip by. Once they’ve been seen they can’t be unseen. The reader, the potential customer, is left with a sneaking suspicion that this company makes mistakes that are still undetected and uncorrected, with no concern about quality. If they made a mistake on this, what other mistakes are they making?

A great editor knows the structural components of the language AND they know the common usage. Many things that we were taught in school as hard and fast rules have softened and changed due to the changes in language and usage. A good editor knows the rules. A GREAT editor knows when to allow the writer to bend or break the rules. And they know when a rule isn’t actually a rule at all.

A famous example is the opening narration from Star Trek, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” A split infinitive, right? Bad English usage! A great editor will see that this is a beautifully constructed sentence and has a terrific impact. This editor will also know that there is NO RULE against splitting an infinitive. It’s a strongly held preference by some, but there’s nothing to forbid it. Why? Because it clearly communicates what the writer/speaker means.

Look for talented editors inside your organization. You may also want to hire a freelance editor, someone with a keen eye and strong experience. Team them with talented copywriters and you’ll end up with really effective marketing, materials that engage readers, and don’t confuse or upset them.

The What Makes A Great Editor? by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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