Even the best writer needs a good editor -- and not all talented writers are great editors. Over the last several years, there's been a lot of speculation about what makes a good editor, especially online. What appears to be phenomenal writing to one person can make the smallest impression on another. And arguably the worst editing sin -- over-editing -- can crush a writer's spirit, squelch inspiration and just plain slow things down to a crawl.
During the last three years, we've built a network of thousands of freelance writers who have been vetted by a writing test. This week we launched a new editing test that we hope will help us identify strong editors within our network.
So what makes a good editor?
There are the fundamentals of copy editing: grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, word choice and syntax. And then there are the less tangible editing skills: steering the writer in the direction of the right focus, tone, evidence, flow, organization and topic for the audience and the assignment. Finally, there are skills unique to editing online copy on deadline including stamina, tech-savvy, research skills and subject matter expertise.
No two editors will edit the same piece of writing the same way -- and every editor must strike a balance between reigning a writer in and boosting their confidence. Finally, editors must be able to objectively interpret the underlying intent of the assignment and assess the writing through the eyes of the readership.
Do good writers make good editors?
Surprisingly, in preliminary testing, the majority of the 500 Scripted writers tested failed. Even those who got a perfect score on the writer test, failed the editor test. We noticed some interesting patterns in the results of those who passed:
• While we hypothesized fatigue would play a factor with declining scores as the test wore on, in fact "good" editors improved with time -- indicating there's a "warm up'" period.
• There was a geographic pattern in terms of states with a higher concentration of good editors, namely: Arizona, California, Kansas, Maryland and Ohio.
• The most commonly missed copy errors included that "Internet" should be capitalized, "wish list" is not one word, misuse of "chose" vs. "choose," missing hyphens and the misspelling of "benefited" as "benefitted."
• Since over-editing is an issue, test takers were penalized for making unnecessary corrections, the most prevalent of which were flagging the correct use of "effect" vs. "affect," redlining what was in fact proper use of a semi-colon and highlighting "welcomed" as if it were not a word.
Taking the personality fit out of the equation
There are all kinds of editors in the world. In journalism, editors are as much managers and mentors as they are copy editors and sticklers for fact-checking. In book publishing, editors are cheerleaders, psychologists and project managers. But in online brand writing, good writers and good editors can come from anywhere and work completely independently. This takes the potential for a personality clash out of the equation and makes it possible for good writers and good editors to work in tandem to produce high-quality writing efficiently and as peers.