Writers, you shouldn’t do your own editing.

Image source: Unsplash

Okay, okay. Some of you can, and should.

But in an ideal world most people – and all clients, especially those who are not trained writers – should not edit their own work.

Here’s why…

Think back to the last time you agonised over a piece of your own writing, sent it off, and had someone helpfully point out the error you should’ve spotted before pressing SEND?

Welcome to what I call ‘Neuro Autocorrect’, where your brain fixes your mistakes so you don’t see them.

It shows you what you want to see on the page, not what’s really there.

It happens to all of us. And it sucks.

But the unfortunate reality is that your closeness to your writing tends to blind you to its flaws.

The UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders explains the phenomenon:

“You hold the whole text in your mind, and you’ve developed its ideas in sequence right to its conclusion. You can’t now put yourself in the reader’s place by somehow ‘unknowing’ any of this.”

– SfEP

Less recently Mark Twain, too, had an opinion:

“You think you are reading proof [copy], whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along.”

– Mark Twain

The cold eye

So while you may have all the skills to manage all the required editorial functions, you probably also lack the cold, fresh eye that a third-party editor can bring to your work.

This is what leads to mistakes creeping in. 

A copy editor is also sufficiently detached from the writing process to spot the mistakes and inconsistencies that distract the reader.

After all, when we’re too close to things, we don’t see them clearly, which can be interesting in our personal lives but is hazardous for editing.

Or, perhaps you don’t have the relevant editorial skills. This isn’t a failure on your part – it may not be your job to be able to:

  • clarify meaning;
  • eliminate unnecessary jargon;
  • polish language by editing for grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; or
  • check for consistency of internal structure.

But there are wonderful nerds out there who do this for a living, and do it well (which is useful in a world where it’s unwise to rely on built-in spelling/grammar checkers originating from the largely illiterate US).

The solution?

Outsource.

If you can and if it’s feasible, outsource.

Copy editors work on all kinds of projects, from corporate profiles to CVs, newsletters to websites, textbooks to brochures.

They can cut through the confusion to make your message clean, clear, correct, appealing and appropriate.

They can help you to get it right the first time, and within budget.

And above all, because your image is so important, they can help you to find the right tone and to choose the right words.

It’s worth it.

A version of this article originally appeared in Tiffany Markman’s Bizcommunity column. You’ll find more like it here.

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