Editors like to say that their work is invisible. An editor should leave things better than they were before, and no one should know they were there. Because that is true, most people don’t really know what editors do, or where they work. I would guess that the general public thinks of an editor as someone who works at a publishing house, or at a news publication – and indeed you will find editors in those places.
But wherever there is the written word, there is the need for a second eye, an editor who checks what has been written and applies a particular set of skills. Don’t believe me? Dear reader, I will now demonstrate.
CASE STUDY ONE
A local supermarket in my Cape Town suburb has a sign above the area where you find bread, cake and pastries which says “Confectionary”. It was put up two years ago as part of an extensive and expensive revamp.
It does the job – it tells you from across the shop where to find your sugar fix.
But here’s the thing: that’s not how you spell the word, and it is dubious whether it describes breads and cakes at all. It should be spelled Confectionery, which, strictly speaking, refers to sweets and chocolates. There is a United States reference that says pastries are included in the definition. Confectionary is either not recognised as a word at all (in my premium version of the Oxford English Dictionary), or it means the place where confections are created, or it is an adjective. What would I have recommended? The word Bakery, which accurately describes that part of the shop.
CASE STUDY TWO
I belong to a closed Facebook group in which editors commiserate with each other about their jobs, and sometimes share instances where they wish an editor had been employed. (An aside: There’s not a sense of laughing at other people’s mistakes – rather there’s irritation and outrage and a desire to have seen the thing fixed.) A member recently shared photo of a web page for UK bistro, which was enticing people to join its Loyatly programme. The page in question has been amended, but here’s the evidence:
CASE STUDY THREE
Infected by the editor in its midst, our family scrutinises the flyers that drop in our postbox and rates them by the number of mistakes. This one arrived recently, prompting speculation as to what precisely a dump wall is:
WHAT’S THE FUSS?
There’s an argument to be made that in the grander scheme of things these things don’t really matter. The shoppers or potential customers understand what is meant, and no harm is done.
So why not leave things as they are?
You could, but I think that from a business point of view there’s a reason not to make small mistakes like this. In all three examples above, good money was spent on producing branding material of one kind or another. And it was spent on something that was not quite as good as it could have been.
And at least some of a business’s customers will spot an error and possibly dismiss that business as one which does not pay attention to detail, or which was too cheap to get it done properly. In today’s competitive world that’s not what any business wants.
WHAT EDITORS CAN DO FOR BUSINESSES
That local supermarket has a core business, which is to sell goods to customers. They are not expected to understand the finer points of a word like confectionery. But if they had employed a professional editor, they would not, two years later, still have sub-standard branding in their shop.
Error-free signage, brochures and promotional materials are a matter of hygiene: no one will notice if you get it right, but some people will notice if you get it wrong. That matters. The cost of having a professional editor look over your material is negligible when compared with the cost of printing the brochure, or having the sign made.
Don’t be afraid. No one likes having mistakes pointed out. But a professional editor will not make you feel small: they will be glad to have been asked, they will make your words beautiful and they will be discreet.
Editors rule, OK?
PS It is possible that you will find mistakes in this article! Editors make mistakes too. Please let me know!
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Main picture: Pxhere