Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
—William Blake, English visionary, mystic, poet, painter, and engraver (1757-1827)
This is the first in a series on the subject of editing, and why you, as an organization or an individual, need an editor. We will explore what editors do, what they don’t do, how to work with an editor, types of editing, and how editing saves time, money, and adds business value.
[Let’s try that again:]
Typos. Grammar. Logical construction. Fact-checking. Readability. All sorts of consistency. Journalistic style. Corporate style and corporate branding. Messaging. An editor will do that and more. An editor will help you (“you” means you, and “you”also means your organization) communicate with clarity, persuasion, and impact.
No Editor? Try The Top-Drawer Technique
- Write it
- Read it
- Rewrite it
- Print it out
- Place in your top drawer
- Let it sit for a week
- Remove it from the top drawer
- Reread it
- Say to self, “Egads, it’s a good thing I didn’t send this last week!”
An editor can help you examine your writing through your reader’s eyes, and see things you no longer see. That’s why, without an editor, the top-drawer technique forces you to look at your work anew. But, it’s not the same as having an editor. An editor will expand your vision and see through the clichés that may trivialize our writing. A good editor will ask if you’ve tested your assumptions before you present them as given wisdom.
What Does an Editor See?
Editors do not like guessing games. If your editor doesn’t know, trust that your readers won’t either. This is instructive. After being asked, “What does this mean?” enough times, you, as a writer, will begin to anticipate questions of clarity as you work.
I have the mixed fortune of working with Dany. Dany is kind and Dany is patient. Dany, on a daily basis, will point out the facts I’ve missed. She will make sure all of my hyperlinks work, change my single quotation marks to doubles, remove the extra space after my periods, and investigate the details of whatever I’ve written. Dany is an editor extraordinaire. She will coauthor this series on the work and value of an editor.
The reason I wrote ”mixed fortune” is that Dany’s vigilance means I may take her for granted. Pry up Dany’s pillow at night, and there lies her copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. Below it, the AP Style Guide. Capitalize this. Lowercase that. Don’t use an acronym. Use an acronym. Dany is the reason your publications are consistent and correct. Without an editor like Dany, you’ll have an aggregation of errors and confusion of consistency that can only reflect poorly on your organization.
Writing as Microbranding
Think of editing for style as microbranding. A recent study determined that three- to five-year-old children, though not yet able to read, could readily pair logos with brands. Certain logos—including those for fast-food chains, entertainment companies, and cars—proved especially recognizable.
Well, let’s say you are McDonalds.
Your logo is known around the world. Change the font, change the colors, change the style of the golden arches, and you will confuse your audience. They will know something is out of place. And, maybe, just maybe, your customers will wonder if you are as nonchalant with your hamburgers and fries as you are with the way you promote them.
The same thing goes for the way you write. A house style defines a consistent use of words, and that consistency enforces the messaging that builds your brand. It’s either one million or 1,000,000. The same way each time. It’s McDonald’s or it’s MCDONALD’S. Heck, you can use #$%^ as long as you’re consistent. The same way each time. Get it? Consistency builds trust.
By paying attention to the house style, editors help to keep all writers for your company on the same page, over time.
In our next installment: What exactly is “house style”?