I know, in person, a lot of editors, who invest their time finding other’s mistakes. And on most occasions, it is not due to the finding-others’-mistakes hobby, but due to the correct-mistakes-as-they-occur syndrome. And hence, unlike all of us might imagine, an editor knows what to do with your work. But then, I am only looking at an ideal editor, or is it!
For every writer, he is “what” he writes, but for an editor, he is “how” he edits (I disclaim and discourage gender-bias). And that’s that. Irrespective of how bad you feel when you notice a line stricken-off in your work, red circled needless words, or have your work thrown at you, editors still do what is expected out of them. Now, whether you bad-mouth, curse, or verbally abuse them is up to you. I too have been bad-mouthed, cursed, and even sent verbal “get-well-soon” remarks for my skills as an editor. For this post, therefore, I chose to – pen-down what I learnt as a technical writer, and – provide some insight to you on the art of editing.
An editor – on one hand:
- Is someone who works as much as a writer: One misconception people have about such a profile is of that of “lack of work” or “lot of time at disposal”, but the truth is that I as an Editor, only worked as much as, if not more than, the Writer (in my company). If a writer is required to write and cross-check a document before it goes for editing, the editor too must redo the entire process of creating that document – from collection of information, creation of first-pass, to verification of information – before finalizing it. Now, that is a lot of work to do. And, editors, like writers, do not have the liberty to play with the time-frame.
- Corrects mistakes, not point them: Editors must not, for the sake of proving “who they are”, start pointing mistakes that do not exist (or are too small to point).Writers write on the basis of what they collect. And, it is possible that they miss parts of the jigsaw they solve. Editors add on top of what is already created, and hence, it is sometimes observed that the final document gets into shape in only the edit-iterations. And, pointing unnecessary mistakes could restrict free-flow of information, even cause delay in the documentation plan. It is therefore advisable for editors to correct mistakes as they notice. This does not mean that editors must correct every mistake that surfaces. Remember, editors can and must bring changes to documents that lack depth in their purpose. On the same lines, a good editor uses his/her judgment to check the severity of mistakes. If the mistake appears as a valid candidate for discussion (or could have been resolved at the writer’s level), the editor should revert to writers to resolve it.
- Is someone who knows more than a writer: Whether it is about the products, company, or the rules of grammar, an editor must know more than a writer. An editor is not someone who finds faults in others’ work, but the one who shapes the work, which can then strike accord with company’s standards and guidelines and product requirements.
- Lets “original” be “original”: One difficult task for any editor is to provide proper shape and structure to the work, and yet retain its “originality”. Originality, here, means the manner in which the writer has conveyed any idea. Thus, the primary responsibility of editors is to make the work better; but not at the cost of sacrificing creativity. It is the writer’s work, which is given the preference, the editor must follow the trail, and make things tidy and beautiful along the way.
A writer – on the other hand:
- Should not pass the buck: One big trouble that awaits any editor is the non-acceptability and non-ownership of mistakes. Every writer feels that the first draft is the “final” draft; and, personally speaking, there is nothing wrong in “feeling” it. But, the editor must point out mistakes and improvements to the writers. Passing the buck, or not correct the “mistakes” can become a costly affair to resolve!
- Must contribute to the editing processes: Towards the end of his tasks, one important thing a writer MUST DO is share the information he/she acquired while preparing the document. Not only does it save a lot of time for the editor, it adds to the credibility of the information provided by the writer in the document. Now, this doubles the advantage; one: It leads to finalization of documents within the time-frame, and two: It strengthens the communication in your team.
Amongst a lot of things that both of them must choose to do in perfect tandem, are a few:
- Keep document versioned and information tracked: We occasionally see that our documents get corrupted. Mostly either due to the increased size of documents or when multiple users check-out the same document for changes. Not that it is a big issue, but it becomes big when we do not maintain versioned histories of our documents. The way out for this is to create and maintain a centralized source safe of documents, which many of us are already aware of. Another way of doing it is to put your documents on a server, and access them through internal sharing sites or tools, such as the Microsoft SharePoint. Each file when self-assigned for modification should be marked accordingly, so that no two people check the file out at the same time. Also, each version of document should be kept in a separate folder location, such as the archived version, so that in case the current document is lost, the team loses only the latest updates, and not the document progressed thus far. Of course, give preference to the standards and processes that your company follows.
- Follow-up with e-mails: Documentation is a tricky task to take up, if you do not like keeping your e-mailing list busy! Tasks look tidy, and doable, if you keep track of each communication you do. I do not mean that you bombard the inboxes of you and your colleagues with heavy files; what I mean is that you organize every communication that you do, and list down your observations in e-mails. It enables you to share information in a more accurate manner, and provides you with histories of conversation for easy cross-reference.
There are a lot of things an editor must do in order to finalize documents for your company. But, documentation is a team effort. I will discuss in detail about what an editor is expected to do; and, once I have things in place, I will update the comments section with details. Till then, have basics in place, share information, record carefully, and write only what you intend to. That will make your editor’s job easy. After all, he is not that bad a guy!