Category: copy editing

Why did you make that edit?

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Some copy edits are obvious – something is spelled wrong, punctuation is missing, a word is in the wrong spot, etc. But sometimes a client will ask, “Why did you make that change?” Sometimes they just want to know, but on occasion they have an issue with a particular edit. I changed what they wrote, and they want to know why.

It’s an interesting question, as there are many reasons to rewrite a sentence or change a word. In most cases, I’ve made the change because I saw a better way of making the point, or I wanted to clarify the thought. I might have felt that the original sentence was too wordy or it needed to be restructured.

On occasion, I will reflect on the edit because the client’s question made me think about why I made the change. Was there a real reason for the rewrite? Did I want to put my stamp on the document? Did I have a problem with how it was written? Does it still work if I leave it alone? Is there another way to go?

There are several reasons why you should explain your edits to clients:

  • It helps them to understand why something is right or wrong, or why a sentence reads better one way versus another, which can help to make them better writers.
  • It shows that you care about making their writing better – you’re on their side, and you want to make them look good to their readers.
  • It’s part of your job to explain what you’re doing to your clients. They have the right to know why you did something, and the right to decide whether to keep your edit or change it back.

When asked, I will explain why I edited the content to the client. It’s their decision to keep my edit or stick with the original version, but I will do my best to answer the question. I want to ensure that they know the reason, and if I feel strongly enough, explain why it’s the right decision. But in the end, it’s their content, and their decision.

David Gargaro

When is an expense an asset?

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A client asked me to quote on editing a large website against the copy deck. I quoted a bit higher than usual, but I explained that I wanted to err on the high side since it was a rather large website, and that the end result would probably cost less than quoted. The client later told me that there was no budget for what I proposed, and that my services would not be required for this project.

I don’t know if they handled the project themselves or found someone else less costly, but it does raise the thought that they were looking at the cost of editing as an expense rather than an asset, or benefit. The website required editing (they thought so initially) because it contained some very sensitive and pertinent information that required a high level of accuracy. My quote was justified because the website required a significant amount of time to edit. The option is to not have it edited (or to find a lower cost provider), which would leave them open to the consequences of incorrect or poorly written information.

What is the value of your reputation? What price do you put on providing accurate information? That depends on the return on investment and the potential costs of the consequences. There is a constant balancing act.

Editing can be difficult to evaluate on a cost-benefit basis. It’s not as visible as design, or even writing, because you cannot “see” good editing… although poor editing is very visible. So, how does someone quantify the benefit of good editing? You can always show the number of mistakes that were caught after the fact, and then determine what it would have cost if they had made it through.

Editing helps to ensure that copy is clear and accurate. It also helps to protect reputations and defend against errors that could cause issues down the road. It’s a worthwhile expense for more than one reason, which makes it more valuable than the actual cost involved.

David Gargaro

Put your head down and write

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Many writing books and experts – including Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones (one of my new favourite books on writing) – state that you should never edit your writing at the beginning of the process. Just write whatever comes to mind and don’t stop until you run out of things to write. Then you can go back to your writing later and go through the editing process. This applies whether you are writing a book, an article, a case study, your biography, etc.

I believe in this process as well, although it might not be as effective when you’re doing other artistic endeavours, like painting, sculpting, tattooing, etc. In those cases, you have to make sure that everything is right before proceeding to the next step.

But the great thing about writing is that you can change what you wrote after you’ve put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Putting all your ideas down – both good and bad – allows you to evaluate them later to see what should stay or go. When you let the words flow, and don’t edit yourself, you might surprise yourself with what comes out. There are many great tools to help you just get the words out of your head (e.g., Evernote, FreeMind, Scribes, the simple notebook), but the point is to just write.

Of course, editing is a necessary step in helping to make your writing better. (And if you need an editor, do let me know.) However, editing gets in the way of the creative process, and can interrupt your flow of thought. So, don’t start editing until you’ve run out of things to write. Now just start writing!

Have any favourite writing books? Let me know –

David Gargaro

It’s not always about right and wrong

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Some people view the writer-editor (or editor-client) relationship as adversarial. The editor is supposed to find what is wrong with the document. They should fix all the errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, etc. The editor must convince the writer why something is right or something else is wrong.

Some issues are right or wrong. Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors are “wrong.” However, editing or revising a sentence does not mean that the original sentence was wrong. The new sentence might read better, or might be more appropriate for a particular audience. The original sentence could have been unclear as it was written, even though it was grammatically correct.

Editors must remember that the writer (and client) might want the sentence to read a particular way for a reason. They might want to make their point in their own words (unless there is an obvious mistake). So, the edited sentence might not be “right” in this case. But that does not mean it is wrong, either. It’s just a matter of choice.

The client (writer) might not always be right, but they have the right to choose the words they want.

Need an editor who wants to help you write your best content? Let me know –

David Gargaro

Don’t break it if you can’t fix it

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Some editors insist on putting their mark on a document. They can always find something to correct or revise. They have a desire to change the content to “make it better.” Even I have to admit that I feel somewhat anxious on occasion if I don’t find something that needs to be corrected or rewritten in a client’s document.

There are many different ways to write a sentence that says the same thing. There are infinitely many ways to write a paragraph or document. But it’s not the editor’s job to change the writer’s wording. The editor is responsible for ensuring that the content is accurate and clear. Changing the wording can change the author’s meaning. And the author might not want anything changed when there are no grammatical errors.

There is an old saying: If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. The same can often be said for writing. You might think that editing a writer’s sentence, paragraph or content will “fix” it, but you might be “breaking” that content in the author’s eyes. It’s not your job to change it – it’s your job to make sure that the content and message are clear and accurate, and the document reads well. But it might not be broken in the first place, so trying to fix something that is not broken can end up breaking it.

Remember: They’re not your words. Make the content better if you can, but leave them alone otherwise.

Need an editor to make sure that your words speak for you? Let me know –

David Gargaro

10 things that freelance writers should learn now

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I came across a blog post called “10 things every creative person (that’s you) must learn” by Chase Jarvis. It contains some great information for creative people. While it’s geared toward photographers, the tips can apply for writers and editors of all experience levels.

Check out the links above to read the original blog post. I’ve rewritten and adapted the advice for freelance writers (it can also apply to editors).

  1. There are many experts and people with advice on writing and editing (including me). Read what they have to say – but you don’t have to follow their advice to a tee. Experts CANNOT solve your problems – only you can find the solution to your particular situation.
  2. Your clients have needs, but they can’t always tell you EXACTLY what they need. “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Find the best way you know how to provide the best article, blog post, case study, etc.
  3. Don’t try to be BETTER than other writers – aim for DIFFERENT. Be your true self. Make your personality and style part of your service.
  4. Don’t stick to easy and safe. Take on CHALLENGES to create your best work. Take on writing projects outside your usual market or niche. We get better when we try to exceed our abilities and knowledge.
  5. Looks matter. That is, GOOD DESIGN matters. You can write the best words, but if the layout is sloppy or unappealing, your audience won’t want to read it. Acquire knowledge on good design principles, and work with great designers. Make your copy look good.
  6. Keep it SIMPLE. Don’t put too many ideas into your copy, especially within one paragraph or sentence. Tell one story well. Focus on one key feature or benefit.
  7. Don’t try to be perfect. We all make MISTAKES, which is how we learn. Make mistakes, but learn from them quickly. Don’t repeat the same mistakes. Make big mistakes if you must, but learn and move forward.
  8. Don’t compete on PRICE. There will always be someone cheaper than you – ALWAYS. Focus on the VALUE you provide to clients. Value and price are not the same. Value is the benefit the client will get from your service.
  9. Work with the BEST people to reflect your skill, and to become better. You rise to the level of those around you. Work with great designers, writers, editors, marketers, clients, etc. They will elevate you and hold you to a higher standard.
  10. If you are a writer, then write. You must CREATE content, for yourself and for others, for fun and for profit, to be a true creative. Don’t say you’re a writer – WRITE.

Do you need help with being a better freelance writer or editor? Let me know –

David Gargaro

Should you point out other people’s mistakes?

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Have you ever told a friend that they look fat in a pair of pants? Or that they have a terrible haircut? I’m sure that you’ve done something like this at least once in your life… and it’s probably happened to you as well.

How did the person receive the criticism? Did they appreciate your honesty and attempt to help them right their particular wrong? Or did they lash out at you because you hurt their feelings? How did you react when it happened to you?

An individual’s reaction to criticism often depends on the relationship between the two parties involved. Two friends can “criticize” each other when they have a strong relationship – that is, they know each other well and any critiques are meant to help the other person. But being criticized by a stranger, a colleague or someone you are not well connected with is a recipe for backlash, hurt feelings and other forms of disaster. You must always tread lightly.

Early in my editing career, I thought that I could demonstrate my editing skills by contacting random companies and pointing out the flaws in their content, such as spelling errors in advertising materials. I have heard other editors discussing the same strategy. It rarely worked then, and it rarely works today. Generally speaking, people don’t appreciate being told by strangers that they’ve done something wrong. Companies are not machines – they are run by people. Criticizing a company’s work to gain work is not an effective strategy because people do not like being criticized by strangers. It does work in some cases, but I believe that it turns away more people than it attracts.

Case in point: I was approached a photographer who said that my online profile picture was very amateurish, and she could help me to improve my appearance with a professional photo. That is probably true, but I would probably seek someone else out to provide this service because it came off as more of an insult… and an appeal to use her services. I am sure that she would do a great job, but she did not try to form a relationship first. She pointed out my problem and said that she could fix it. It might benefit both of us, but she’s only thinking about what she can do to help herself first.

Telling me that I have flat tire is one thing – telling me that I look like an amateur is another. It’s not the best way to get me to use your services.

Have you given or received criticism? How did it go? Let me know –

David Gargaro

How to use Microsoft Word to edit documents

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Microsoft Word is so widely used that everyone should now be familiar with the Track Changes feature. However, some people still don’t know about it or how to use it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to use, and it can simplify the process of revising your written materials and working with writers, editors and co-workers.

Note: I use Microsoft Word for Mac 2011, so if you use a PC or an earlier version of Mac Word, the instructions will be slightly different.

To start, click the Review tab, which will open the Review toolbar. Turn Track Changes on. Now, every time you change something in the document, Word will indicate the changes with red lines and notes. When different people make changes to the same document, their changes will appear in a different colour, so you can see who made what change. You can then highlight the changed text and use the toolbar to accept or reject the changes. You can also accept or reject all changes, but it makes more sense to review each change before deciding what to do.

You can also add notes to your document. Highlight where you want to add the comment. Then use the Add comment button to open a comment bubble, and type your comment. Your comment will be attached to that section.

It’s such a simple tool to use, and very effective because you can see the changes the editor made to your document. Editors can also provide you with two versions of the same document – one with Track Changes shown, and one with all edits approved. This allows you to see the final version of a document, and what changes the editor made to your document. Make sure to ask your editor to use Track Changes so that you can retain control over the document.

Have any other questions about editing with Microsoft Word? Let me know –

David Gargaro

Heeding (or ignoring) your editor’s advice

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Some people believe that editors are infallible, and that every correction should be immediately followed… even when they don’t agree with those changes. I am here to tell you (although many editors will disagree) that you should NOT simply accept every editor’s comment and correction.

Some edits are necessary, such as spelling errors, grammatical issues and problems with consistency. Other edits are subjective – they may involve changing the way a sentence is written, or switching from passive to active writing. As the writer, you are responsible for the final product. They are your words – you have a better understanding of what you want to say than anyone. The editor wants to help you clarify your meaning and produce the strongest possible document. But, in the end, they are your words, and you own that decision.

Microsoft Word has a great feature for editing documents called Track Changes. You can see the editor’s changes, and then accept or reject them at your leisure. Always ask your editor to use Track Changes, or create a PDF with the marked up changes, so that you can make the decisions yourself. Also, seeing the editor’s changes allows you to question his/her decisions, and learn why something was changed.

Always listen to your editor, and consider his or her advice. They want to help you improve your writing. Editors can push you in the right direction. But you have to follow the path that makes sense to you.

David Gargaro

Pay attention to consistency

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Many people focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation when they review their written materials. However, they often overlook consistency. I’ve seen many business documents that had different spellings and treatments for business names and terminology, as well as common words and phrases. Some content varies between Canadian and American spelling. Some business letters have inconsistent introductions or closing signatures, as well as simple things such as the company’s name, address and phone number. Issues with consistency can happen throughout a company’s multi-page website or a single-page press release.

Consistency is as important as grammar, spelling and punctuation. It helps writing to flow better, and makes it a better read for the audience. Inconsistencies can be jarring for the reader and leave a subconscious distaste for what they read. Being consistent also enables you to reinforce your message and brand, as it will ensure that you repeat the same words and phrasing when describing your company and its products and services.

How can you ensure that your content is more consistent?

  1. Create a simple style guide that lists the spelling of certain words and phrases. You can add to the guide as more issues appear, and you can share it with employees and freelance writers.
  2. Use templates with set layouts and phrasing, which enables you to change only the information required, while the rest of the content stays the same.
  3. Update your word processor’s dictionary to recognize the correct spelling of commonly used words, phrases, names and terms.
  4. Do a search on commonly misspelled words and phrases to make sure that they are treated the same throughout.
  5. Compare similar documents side by side to see how they look, which should make it easier to catch inconsistencies.

Do you have any tips of making your writing more consistent? Let me know –

David Gargaro