Many people think of an editor as someone who works with journalists or books.
But organisations of all sorts, as well as individuals, could benefit greatly from using an editor, even though many of never thought to do so.
Why? Here are some reasons.
1. Everyone needs an editor
Everyone needs an editor. I’m an editor, and I need an editor. No one writes and it comes out perfectly the first time. It’s necessary to look over written material again and again. Often, if someone has worked too closely and too intensely on a document, a fresh pair of eyes is absolutely necessary. It’s just too difficult to spot those mistakes yourself.
2. Put work where it’s most efficient
Division of labour is how most organisations operate. You assign particular tasks to specific people who have the expertise to do them. This makes the work efficient. It doesn’t make sense for someone to slave over perfecting a document if it’s not their forte. It’s also a waste of time and resources if CEOs, senior managers and executive directors are spending hours on wordsmithing instead of leading their organisations (unless writing is a main focus of their work).
3. Ideas and skill don’t equal good writing
It shouldn’t require humility to be able to see that someone might have great skills or fantastic ideas but not necessarily have the capability to express those well on the page. I do editing and proofreading for some copywriters who are geniuses at selling products and proposing catchy concepts, but still need support to make sure that the English is right. Particularly in some fields, technical experts need to supply the content for a piece of writing, but editing is sorely needed to make the text readable.
4. Mistakes are not a good look
Most of our writing is not for ourselves. It’s for an audience, whether that’s a client, someone receiving a proposal or application, customers surfing your website, or the general public. It’s just not a good look to have mistakes in your letters, articles, proposals, white papers, reports or on your social media. It’s true that some people won’t care. But some people will care a lot, and others might not know what’s wrong but they’ll sense poor or sloppy writing – and take with them the impression that the organisation or individual responsible produces low-quality work.
5. So that people can read it
In some sectors, the reader of a report really just needs the facts, figures and technical specifications. They’ll probably skim the text to get to the parts most necessary for their work. But for most organisations and individuals, accessibility is key – and if it isn’t, it should be. Why write at all if the ideas are not clearly conveyed to the reader, in language that can be understood by many (meaning the minimal use of jargon, acronyms and unfamiliar, technical terms) – and structured in a way that the main points of the writing come across directly? It’s surprising how often you can read a section of a report and ask, ‘What’s the point?’ and ‘What are they trying to say?’.
6. Gain a competitive advantage
Businesses of all sorts are always trying to get an edge. Whether it’s submitting a tender for a major contract, selling products or services on your website, or establishing yourself as a thought leader through blogging and articles, good writing (meaning that it is well edited) could represent an important distinction between you and your competitors.
7. A single voice is needed
One of my clients is a large consulting firm that has employees from all over the world. One of the way this wreaks havoc on reports is that there are different spellings of words in different countries (and organisations). When I first arrived in the UK from Canada, it took me ages to figure out that using ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ in a word like organisation was not a mistake. Australia has unique spellings, different from the USA and Canada, and from some United Nations bodies! Whether it’s ‘color’ or ‘colour’, ‘analyse’ or ‘analyze’, the same spellings must be used in a single document.
But this speaks to a larger issue. Anytime that more than one person works on a document risks it sounds like it was written by more than one person! A good editor can help smooth out the language and aim for a document to feel as it has a single, unified voice and vision.
8. Contemporary styles of writing change all the time
Everything changes. It’s useful in business to keep up with contemporary trends. Did you know that ‘Title Case’ is much less popular these days than ‘Sentence case’ for titles and headings in documents? Or the move towards minimal punctuation means that less and less people are putting commas after the salutation and closing of letters (i.e. ‘Dear John’ and ‘Yours sincerely’ with no commas after them). By ensuring that your reports and writing are following contemporary conventions, your work will feel up to date, or at least not old-fashioned.
9. Writing is tricky
Writing is tricky, which is perhaps one of the reasons why I love it. I’d already had four books published and fancied myself a proper writer by the time I took an editing course and discovered that I had no idea that an en-dash (–) should be used for ranges of numbers and dates, and that it is used differently according to country, organisation and publication. I wasn’t quite sure of the reasons to use hyphens for often-incorrect but possibly confusing compound adjectives (see what I did there?). I didn’t know the occasions to use single and double quotation marks, and I certainly didn’t know about creating a Style Guide to help both clients and myself to remember agreed spellings and formatting. So, yes: writing is tricky, and a good editor makes sure you don’t have to worry about that.