An editor's role... to punish the writer?

Subject: An editor's role... to punish the writer?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 10:28:43 -0400

Worzel Gummidge reports: <<Our editors seem to have the attitude of: "We
need to punish those naughty writers." And believe me, punish they do. For
example, I recently received a document that not only had tons of "slash and
burn" comments (and yes, I know my own weaknesses), but the tone was tense
and terse.>>

Sounds like you're taking the editorial comments too personally, though it's
also certainly possible that your editors could use a lesson in tact. You
don't define what you mean by "slash and burn", but it's human nature to
look at a page full of edits and feel personally attacked. I understand this
viscerally, because in addition to working full-time as an editor, I also do
a lot of writing and translation work, and find myself on the sharp end of
the red pen fairly often.

One of the hardest lessons I learned was that whether or not I agree with an
edit, each edit indicates somewhere that I'd failed to communicate with at
least one reader. Looking really hard at the edit usually revealed why the
editor had made it, and that in turn gave me considerable insight into how
to correct it. Of course, editors are human too, and sometimes make
mistakes, but even those mistakes were often understandable. You end up a
much better writer if you learn to embrace comments, even critical ones,
rather than taking them as personal attacks.

fwiw, my role has never been to attack or punish an author, though I have
been sorely tempted sometimes. <g> I seriously doubt this is the purpose at
your company either.

<<Also, our editors copy our managers, directors, and anyone else they feel
should look over the writer's work...>>

This approach rarely arises from an angry need to demonstrate your flaws to
your bosses. More often, it arises from two workplace practices. The good
one is that the editors are often forced to manage a review process in which
managers and others also review the technical correctness of what you've
written and the correctness of their editing; this is nothing more than
quality control. The less-good one is that editors are sometimes told to
justify their existence or hit the road, and sending heavily edited
manuscripts to their bosses is purely a survival tactic: "Look how good we
are and how many things we fix... now please don't fire us!" Trust me on
this one: all the discussions on techwr-l about writers not getting respect
apply even more so to editors. Knowing which of these two possibilities is
the case at your workplace is the key to learning to live with the process.

<<A writer must turn in a completely clean doc, and if they don't *&$#!!!>>

One thing you should start doing is analyzing the types of edits that come
back to you. They'll typically fall into a variety of categories, such as
"overuse of passive voice" or "doesn't follow corporate style guide". You'll
never be able to turn in a completely clean doc, but if you pick one
category of edits each month and work hard to eliminate only that type of
error from your writing, you'll be surprised at how much cleaner your
documents will be by the end of the year.

<<If all the writers turned in completely clean docs, why have editors?>>

Purely and simply because no writer is ever completely unaffected by their
own pre-existing knowledge and assumptions. Since we're all blind to our
personal blindspots, we always need a second set of eyes to find them for
us. That person may be an editor or other form of reviewer; editors are just
the folk who do this for a living.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
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