5 Tips for Being a Good Editor

A good writer is nothing without a good editor. However, a good editor is not always easy to come by. Just as there is an art to writing, there is an art to editing.

Here are five tips for being a good editor. 

  1. Proofreading is not editing.

Proofreading (or copyediting) is focused on surface errors such as grammatical errors, spelling, incorrect word choice, and syntactical issues. This copyeditors’ marks sheet from Wiley will give you a good sense of the type of mistakes proofreaders look for. Editing is part of the revision process and, while good editing has proofreading components, it looks deeper into the content of the work. Does it make sense? What point is the author trying to make? Is he or she able to make it clearly? How could the piece be improved? A good way to approach editing is to write questions in the margins of the text you’re reading as they come to your head. Another way is to write very short summaries next to paragraphs to see if your understanding matches the author’s goals.

  1. Understand what the writer is looking for.

When a writer asks you to edit their work always ask for a clarification: Do they want you to proofread or to edit? Editing a piece when only a proofreading is expected is not always a welcomed surprise. Once clarified, asked the author if there are specific things they are struggling with, this will let you target your editing to be the most helpful.

  1. Reading for editing is different from reading for pleasure.

Reading for editing requires a high level of engagement. Read slow and steady focusing on each word to understand and evaluate why the author chose that word, structured that sentence that way. Read with a pen in your hand. One method to keep that high level of focus is to tap underneath each word as you read. If you’re editing on the computer edit in full screen mode to limit distractions and run the curser over the screen as you would a pen.

  1. A good editor reads a piece at least three times.

You are never going to get everything the first time you read a piece. A good editing practice is to read a piece three times. The first time limit your marks to small ones: little Xs next to sections that warrant great scrutiny and checks next to sections that hit the mark (use different color highlighting if working on a computer) The second time write your questions and comments in the margins; spend extra time on the sections you marked in the first reading. During the third reading write suggested revisions next to areas of peak concern.

  1. Color is critical. 

Always edit in a color that is different than the color of the text you’re editing. It’s important your edits and comments stand out on the page and are easy to read. I like to use a different color for each reading; this allows the author to see my thought process in the most complete way possible. When editing on the computer ALWAYS use track changes and, because track changes in Google Docs is lousy, edit in Microsoft Word whenever possible.

Note: It’s a good idea to check with the writer about what color pen to use when editing their working. For some people large amounts of red ink can add stress to the revision process. Purple is a great secondary color choice.


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