The Light-Handed Editor

Lately, it’s become hard for me to write. I’ve been busy and, as Ferris Bueller sagely advised, life moves pretty fast, but mainly my lack of writing has been because my current working situation prevents me from writing about what I do in the detail that is sufficient to bore you to tears. Which is always my goal. So here we go.

One thing that I’ve done for, lo, these twenty-some years, is edit. I’ve been a good editor and a poor one. If you edit documents, here is some advice, less sage than Ferris’, perhaps, but possibly helpful:

  • Who is writing and who is reading?  Are you editing for your high schooler who is about to drop a ton of misplaced commas all over a future employer’s desk, or are you editing for your boss who might have dangled a few participles in a memo to his staff? Consider who you are correcting and how critical it is for the end-user to see perfect grammar and nice spacing.
  • Are you more interested in seeing red? Sometimes when we edit, it is an exercise in passive-aggressive behavior. Are you ticked that you have to edit a document for someone who should have paid more attention in 9th grade English class? Go easy with the red pen; make sure your comments are necessary and helpful.
  • Repeat: Is it necessary? In corporate settings, there are sometimes group editing projects (in hell, there will be no doubt be group editing projects). Group editing projects stink. Let’s just be honest. But sometimes they are necessary. Think high level in these situations. Why are you being ask to edit? I am often asked to edit to spot any legal issues and massage language as needed. That means no one needs me to pick apart adjective choices in a paragraph about mobilizing church volunteers. Lawyers have a terribly annoying habit of believing they are editors extraordinaire (they aren’t) and that there is a desire to have them rewrite and lengthen any written submission (there isn’t, there really, really isn’t). Know your role and change only what is necessary.
  • When a rewrite is necessary, say so. If you follow these simple rules, you will have some gravitas when you have to call a rewrite. Do this very sparingly, but when it needs to be done, confront it head-on. If you can, offer to help. What goes out of your office is a reflection on you, not just the person who signs the email.

And. If you find any errors in, this. Be nice.

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