7 Ways to Avoid Writing Missteps that Drive Editors Crazy

The writer–editor relationship can be fabulous, and it can be fragile.

In my career, I’ve worked from behind a variety of writers’ desks — from a corporate communications and marketing professional to a journalist and magazine editor. I’ve had the benefit of receiving guidance from superb editors, but I’ve also felt the strain as an editor of providing feedback to writers whose work was sloppy and tenuous. The sad part is I don’t think all who turned in sloppy work were bad writers. They just didn’t take the time to focus on the details.

Editing other people’s work is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your own. Is my introduction lackluster? Was I too lazy to fact check? Did I actually use spell check? Does the end of my article drop off like a cliff because I was racing to meet a deadline?

As an editor, those things drove me crazy. Each writer has his or her own style, strengths and level of creativity. But, when we neglect those basic things, your editor may just be pulling her hair out or screaming at his computer screen.

Some of these may seem basic. That’s the point. Start with the basics and let your talent shine through. Your editor will love you for it.

7 Tips for Living Peacefully with Even the Most Demanding Editor

  1. Fact check. Fact check. Fact check. I have no idea how writers and editors accomplished anything on a deadline before the internet, but Google search is my best friend. When I was writing for a health care magazine and my source mentioned a mentor at Johns Hopkins University, guess how I checked the spelling of that mentor’s name (and of Johns Hopkins)? This also goes for trademarks, registered marks and any other proprietary designations that may apply to the products or services you’re writing about.
  2. Research is for more than academic papers. Cite your sources. If you say 50 percent of Americans have blah, blah, blah… Prove it. It makes your argument stronger. Microsoft Word makes it easy to use their built-in tools to cite sources based on the style guide you choose to follow. [Check out our blog on Style Guides and why you need one.] Don’t be lazy and make your editor track down this information.
  3. Spell check or bust. This is such a no-brainer and so basic, yet I can’t tell you how many times I received articles with misspelled words. Also pay attention to homophones — like there, their, they’re — that spell check won’t catch. It shows you have an eye for detail, which editors appreciate.
  4. Give your lede some love. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an article, blog or social media post, a strong leading idea is crucial. It’s what makes readers read on, click through and want to learn more. It’s also critical that the lede pays off in the copy. Be sure to connect the dots.
  5. Consistency is critical. Double check your tone, writing style, headlines, subheads, anything where your overall message should be the same. Being consistent in your copy is critical to communicating a clear message.
  6. Be a ruthless self-editor. I’m guilty of writing long and growing attached to a well-crafted turn of phrase. Yeah, they sound nice, but do they serve a purpose? Ask yourself, what is the main idea/purpose of this piece? Cut any copy that doesn’t support that main idea. Also look for superfluous words or phrases that are self-serving. At WordsFresh, we call it “cutting the flab.”
  7. Come to a conclusion. Unlike movies, good business writing doesn’t end with a cliff-hanger. Sum up your copy, tie back to the intro and leave your readers being glad they read until the end.

Thinking, and writing, like an editor can make your copy more precise and impactful. Isn’t that what we all want? And, it’ll improve your relationship with your editor in the process.

Need a good editor? Contact us.

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