How to Be a Better Editor

How to Be a More Focused Editor

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Jen McNallyEditing has come a long way in the past 100 years. It used to be that you had to know dozens of proofreading marks, and now there’s even more to worry about, says Jennifer McNally, the owner of marketing communications firm Communication Counts.

But no matter how the craft of editing changes, one thing remains the same: “Everybody needs an editor,” she says.

Jennifer joined us for Managing Editor Live! in March to share the lessons she has learned throughout her career as a copy editor and marketer.

If you’d like to hear more from her about how to be a better editor, watch the full session here.

Know Your Audience

Editing knowledge is evergreen. It means knowing semicolons from colons, how to set up clauses properly and how to identify the occasions when a serial comma applies even if your style guide rules out the use of the Oxford comma.

However, there’s a lot more to being an editor these days, particularly in marketing. “You have to really educate yourself about what you’re editing and about who you’re editing for,” Jennifer says. After all, editors have to deal with quite a bit these days, juggling multiple style guides and voices for different clients and formats. What works for an email newsletter won’t necessarily work for Twitter.

So make sure you’re doing your research — on your client, the industry, the format — to be fully prepared. And when in doubt, there’s always something you can rely on:

“The style guide is your friend.”

Avoid Emotional Editing

Writers rely on editors to push their work to be the best it can be. But just as writers can get bound up in stress, anxiety and emotion, editors need to remember that they can face the same issues. “One thing that I’ve really had to caution folks that I’ve worked with about is emotional editing,” Jennifer says. If editors find that they’re having trouble — or perhaps editing a bit too much — Jennifer says it may be time for a step back.

The other issue? Putting too much of your voice into a piece. Editors have to remember that there’s a writer on the other side of the equation, one who’s put their time and energy into it. “We want to make sure that we are truly getting the tone and the voice right, so that it’s not just your way,” she says.

“It’s really hard sometimes to take that emotion out of it.”

Try a New Way of Seeing Things

Editors these days have quite a bit on their plates, and sometimes the beautiful words our writers have crafted can start to look like a bowl of alphabet soup. And then the piece is published with an embarrassing typo that makes you question your very identity. It’s a major fear of anyone in publishing.

Jennifer has a solution to get rid of that alphabet soup, though: read backward! Start from the end and work your way up.

“It totally jolts your brain so that you see things with a fresh eye.”

Watch Jennifer’s entire session about being a better editor and browse the rest of our recorded sessions on managing a modern marketing team.

Rex New was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for co-writing Dance Camp, YouTube's first original film. He is a proud Louisiana native.

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