I write a lot.
But lately, I’ve been doing much more editing.
I sometimes feel that editing is slowing me down on my journey to “be the best writer I can be,” but it’s not. Because, in reality, reading, editing, and writing are the components to being a good writer (writing is only one part).
- Reading is for learning by soaking up the good work of other writers.
- Editing is for trying to improve the work (giving and receiving feedback).
- Writing is for doing the thing over and over.
This article is about editing.
Why Editing Matters
If you’re editing this article in your head right now, you might suggest cutting this part and getting straight to “the goods.” But I think it’s important to explain why editing matters so you (the Content Writer/Editor/Manager) have an incentive to keep reading.
So, why does editing matter? Put simply:
- It’s how work gets from good to great
- It’s a great way to build trust and rapport with your team
- It makes you a better writer
Got it? Okay, let’s dive in.
7 Quick Tips for Giving Better Writing Feedback
Keep Your Brief Handy
One way to start the editing process off on the right foot is finding common ground on the foundation of the piece. These components are often outlined in the writing brief. Good writing should answer the key questions predetermined in the outlining stage:
- Who is this for?
- Why should they care?
- What’s the main takeaway of the piece?
As editors, we should be referencing it to make sure the piece is on track to answering these questions.
And when it doesn’t…
Clarity of intent is important.
Understanding what the author is trying to accomplish helps us steer them in the right direction. Asking questions helps.
For example: “This might only make sense for people familiar with the subject. Are you speaking more to a broader audience or subject matter experts here?”
Or more simply: “This wasn’t clear to me. Do you think there’s a way to simplify this?“
Writing can be is subjective. We’ve all got our own style. And, whether we do it consciously, we like seeing things written the way we would write them.
Often, as an editor, the feedback we give is as much about us, as it is the writer.
Explaining our reasoning behind a piece of feedback helps distinguish whether it’s stylistic or substantive. It makes it easier for the author to know what to do with that feedback: is it a suggestion, a requirement, or even just an opinion?
Pro-Tip: If you don’t already have an editorial style guide, it’s worth developing one. It helps weed out unnecessary subjective feedback around things like formatting and even tone and voice.
Be Candid, Empathetic, and Respectful
If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, you know that writing is hard.
We should respect the work that went into the craft. Acknowledging the process when giving feedback can help the author receive it better, too.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be honest or direct. On giving feedback, Emily Drake, Owner and Lead Facilitator at The Collective Academy once said, “Mean what you say, say what you mean, and don’t be mean when you say it.”
This is table stakes. I feel a little silly saying it, but it needs to be said.
Feedback should be actionable or directional. “This section isn’t working” doesn’t work for writers.
If your feedback immediately warrants a follow up question like, “how so?” or “why?”, replace the initial comment with the answer to your question.
For example: “You mentioned ‘ABC’ here. It feels like it’s missing ‘XYZ’. A sentence on ‘DEF’ might help make this transition smoother.”
Give Good Examples
This can be tricky, because we don’t always want to do the work for the author, but it may be helpful to provide directional suggestions.
It doesn’t have to be perfect or polished, but if it helps clarify the point across, make the suggestion.
For example: “I stumbled over this a few times. You could say ‘XYZ’ instead to help with the flow here.”
Point Out What’s Working Well
When giving feedback, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s not working.
As editors, it’s equally important to point out what’s working really well. This helps the writer double-down on the format, or tone, or whatever is really shining in a section. And it just helps them know where they’re on the right track.
For example: “This is money! I really love how each section offers specific examples to demonstrate how the project’s impact was felt across the organization.”
Editing is hard, but rewarding.
If you have the responsibility of editing someone’s work, it’s probably because you’re part of a team where when one person wins, everybody wins.
As an editor, making your team better should be motivation enough to invest in good editing habits.
But if you need another, more “you-centric” reason: working at being a better editor will 100% make you a better writer, too. 😉