What Does an Editor Even Do?

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Sherri Martz

Sherri Martz

Sherri Martz | Editor

You might think that an editor’s main job is to find errors in an article or essay and fix them, but that’s actually just the final step in the process of editing. True, it’s an essential step, but it’s far from the most significant.

The first consideration for me is the overall focus of the piece — is that focus clear? Does everything in the article connect to it? Are there elements that, interesting though they might be, take away  from the writer’s main point, distracting a reader rather than informing?

I also read to see if the organization of the article is effective. Is the introduction too long or not “catchy” enough? Is the structure clear? I highlight sections that might work better if placed elsewhere in the text, then cut and paste to see where they more logically fit or whether they should be eliminated.

Sometimes, rearranging paragraphs or even just a few sentences means that I have to consider why I’m moving them — do I need to provide a transitional word or two that helps readers understand the connections that I myself see? I may also try separating long paragraphs into two or even three — either to make a section more easily understood by readers or to make a significant point stand out.

Another aspect of editing is considering word choice and sentence structures. For instance, I might substitute a more specific word or simplify a sentence structure to clarify the writer’s point. If the writer uses technical terms that readers might not understand, should those terms be briefly explained? Of course, if the intended audience would be familiar with the terms, the answer here would be no.

Only at this point do I start to consciously look for errors — what needs to be corrected? Does that word need to be capitalized? Is that a deliberate sentence fragment? Is it effective? Is that spelling correct? And commas! What about all those commas?

That’s essentially my approach to editing. Except that it isn’t. (See what I did there with that deliberate sentence fragment?)

Writing is not a linear process — first do this, then do that, and finish up by doing this. It’s actually more of a messy back-and-forth journey. We write something, then write something else, then have an idea and go back to change the first thing, then spot an error, then change a word — you get the idea.

That’s how I edit, too. I start out by reading the whole piece, make a note of what seems to be the focus, spot a misplaced comma and fix it, highlight a phrase that seems confusing, and then circle back to the focus again. The absolute last step, though, is always to read it again, all the way through, looking for whatever stray commas or misspelled words may have snuck past me. And yes, occasionally, an error will slip through — I hate when that happens—but that’s part of the process, too.

Good Cause Creative’s business began with writing and editing. We still offer this service to a select group of clients, and we also connect them to a talented pool of independent contractors who are experts in content creation, SEO, digital marketing, Google Ad grants and communication strategy through the Trialogue program. If you need help in any of these areas, click here to schedule a call about your nonprofit’s communication needs.

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