Editing: What You Want From an Editor

Don’t pick the first person with a fancy bowtie you see.

Whether you have set up a new website for your business, written a bunch of articles for your own newspaper, or just completed your first manuscript, you need an editor who can proof your work properly. Some are skilled in particular professions, like books or magazines. Others are jack-of-all-trades types, whose skills range across the spectrum. You might only want a proofreader to check your grammar and spelling. Or you may want the big guns of a developmental editor, who will give you advice on how to restructure your entire novel. A good editor will be able to provide whatever services you require, as well as being:

  • Professional – An editor should conduct themselves and their business with the style and skill of a CEO. They should be able to answer all of your questions and have the ability to help you out – or have the humility to refer you to someone better suited. Every profession is technically a competition, but editors should want to make projects as best as possible, and if they can’t help, they should be more than willing to direct you to a person who can. In line with this, they should also be polite and friendly, regardless of any difficulties that may arise.
  • Skilled – A bit obvious, of course, but an editor should be good at what they do. They should be able to tell you their weaknesses, as well as their strengths, and have the knowledge necessary to help you with your project, whatever it may be.
  • Communicative – An editor needs to have good communication skills, especially since much of the conversation will probably take place via email or other text-based method. They should be able to provide clear direction, straightforward advice, and understandable edits.
  • Logical – Besides grammar and punctuation, an editor needs to know what it’s important and what isn’t. A proofreader has less control than a developmental editor, but all editors should be able to provide advice in regards to whether a section of text simply doesn’t make sense. They should also know when to bend the rules a little, especially for informal writing or novels.
  • Timely – An editor should deliver work by the deadline, or at least inform you well ahead of any late work.
  • Adaptable – Technology marches on, rules are altered, and people change their minds, so an editor needs to be flexible. They need to keep up with new editing software and CMSs, as well as different file formats. As MLA or AP or Chicago style guides reflect the times, so too should the editor. And if the author decides that long, run-on sentences are better than short ones, an editor should acquiesce. (Of course, should a request prove to be too unreasonable – replacing commas with periods, for instance – an editor should feel free to say so.)

What other attributes should a good editor have? Share in the comments below!

“Day 11 Oct. 15” by sj_sanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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