Character Traits of a Good Editor

Freelance editing seems like it would be quite the advantageous job. However, being a good editor means more than having a sharp eye and a solid understanding of a client’s house style and/or traditional style manuals. A good editor also knows how to strike a balance between correction and compassion.

Write first, edit second.

In my opinion, every editor should have first started out as a writer, and been a writer for at least a couple of years before making the transition to editing. Otherwise, he or she really can’t relate to what freelance writers go through in order to meet various client standards. First, that bit of dread while writing something, particularly if it’s for a new client. Then, that relief, yet trepidation after submitting the work.

This is the part where some editors go on a power trip, particularly if their position allows them to edit work anonymously. I haven’t seen much of it in recent years, though when I first started freelancing, it was prevalent to a ridiculous degree.

Some editors would simply return the work with randomly placed commas and a snarky comment. Others would demand complete rewrites of work that didn’t warrant it. I particularly relished having my work edited by people who couldn’t even spell correctly – now, of course, I’m being sarcastic, which brings me to my next point…

Be helpful, not haughty.

Editors need to realize that chastising writers for their mistakes won’t produce the quality content that the client is looking for. Instead, it can produce a defeatist or even defiant attitude amongst the writers. This can result in a chain reaction of negativity. Writers might complain about a company’s editors, thus damaging the company’s reputation. The problematic editors might then be dismissed, yet the writers might have already moved on to other job opportunities. That’s probably why most companies are particularly selective about the editors they hire.

Clients might have a certain set of guidelines for editors to abide by, in which they’re simply to edit the content and pass it through. Comments might only be given for work that needs to be sent back to the writer. Despite this strictness, editors should still carefully choose their words when they have a chance to write them. For example, if work is poorly punctuated, it’s better to approach the situation with suggestions like, “Please pay attention to your comma usage; see these examples, and refer to (page #) of the style guide for more information.”

Editors should inspire, not irritate.

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