What editors do
Basically, it is the job of editors to mediate relationships. They mediate the relationships between the writers, their content, their audience and their organization (such as a company or institution).
More specifically, they still do much of what Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler laid out in their seminal booklet Levels of Edit of 1980 (a PDF version is available online). Mind you, much has changed since, but many of the basic principles still apply. So David took his cue from the 9 levels of edit to propose 3 classes of edit today:
- The policy edit is for coordination and planning. It ensures that the content is appropriate to the organization and its audience, that it complies with the organization‘s policies and strategies.
- The copy edit handles all the technical issues of content, from spelling and punctuation to formatting and textual integrity. It ensures that the text is functionally correct and clear.
- The developmental edit addresses the content itself in the last and most important stage. It ensures that the language is comprehensible and presents the text’s substance appropriately and clearly, whether it is a concept or a procedure. (This is not the same as a content review! A subject-matter expert reviews whether content is correct and complete, while a developmental editor ensures that such content is presented in clear and comprehensible language.)
All three classes of edit occur at the same stage in the content workflow:
- Policy edit: Author and editor plan content production.
- Author writes content.
- Subject-matter expert reviews content.
- Author corrects content according to review.
- Developmental edit: Editor edits content.
- Author corrects content according to edit.
- Copy edit: Editor proofreads content.
Advice for editors
- Check the text and the publication, not the product or the facts that are described in the text, that’s the task of the reviewing subject-matter expert.
- Offer constructive criticism, don’t evaluate or grade the text.
- Mentor the writer, if necessary, don’t manage the writer. If you are his or her manager, put on your editing hat, not your managing hat.
- Create and apply guidelines and policies:
- Create and comply with a corporate style guide as a searchable collective memory to guide the work of writers and editors alike.
- Agree on who has the last word.
- When editing topics in structured authoring:
- Edit in chunks
- Add a step in the workflow before the copy edit: Editor or writer compiles document
- When editing in an agile environment:
- Consider when a content item is shippable
- Consider when the document as a whole is shippable
- Change the workflow so steps 2. through 4. above become: Write and review in sprint.