How to be a good editor – it’s all in the routine

If I had serious money for all the articles and books I have edited over the years, I would be writing this from a rather nice beach house. Sadly, that is not the case – but I have amassed another kind of richness: a wealth of experience in The Way of the Editor. And the single most important thing about the Way of the Editor is establishing a routine – the simple act of doing things in the same order every time, and the organisation of work tools so they are always in the same place (read my tips about keeping your browser organised here). These two things have one important result: they make you faster. And a fast editor is a good editor. And yes, it is possible to deliver both speed and quality. But since editing is mercilessly detail driven, and human beings are imperfect, a routine is also your defence against the likelihood of things going wrong. It helps on days when you aren’t feeling good, or when you are distracted. Or in the year when a pandemic turned the whole world upside-down. Your routine makes you settled, and secure – and that is always useful. And it doesn’t really matter what order you do things in – if doing things in a particular way works for you, then keep doing that! Here, though is my own habitual way of approaching small pieces of writing. Really long pieces of writing have a different rhythm, but let’s start small.
1. Read the text and fix any small obvious errors. Let your hands do the work, and don’t agonise. Just make a decision – you can always change your mind later. 2. Read again and look for big mistakes and fix them:
  • things that don’t make sense
  • facts that might need checking (I highlight these, and then check them in a batch when I have done all the other things on this list)
  • time elements that don’t flow logically
  • writing that is clumsy or too wordy
  • sentences that are too long
  • parts that don’t have “bridges” (ie when the text doesn’t flow properly from one idea to the next)
3. Read it again, fixing every other mistake you can see (including the ones that you yourself may have introduced). 4. Run it through your spell checker and a grammar checker – see below. At this point I also check that any hyperlinks work, if the piece is to be published online. 5. Read it one last time. 6. Let it go. Good enough is good enough. Note: if you are editing your own writing, the single most important thing you can do is allow time to do its work. After you have written your piece, give yourself as much time as you can before looking at it again (it follows that leaving the writing to the last minute means you will have less time for editing).
Grammarly – a browser extension with free and paid versions ( It also has an extension that works with Microsoft Word, but I have found that it slows Word down too much. I use Word’s inbuilt grammar and spell checks instead. PerfectIt – a programme that bolts on to Microsoft Word. Many editors in my editing guild swear by it, and they often have discounted sales. An online list of others to try: Best online grammar checkers 2022 (it takes a while to load) WRITING AND EDITING – LINKS WORTH LOOKING AT Short, sharp and sweet – read this if you read nothing else: 7 Proofreading Steps Longer read with really good writing and editing tips, aimed at people editing their own writing – but useful for all editors: Your complete self-editing checklist Long read with tips on how to improve your writing, written by an editor: 10 Self-Editing Tips that Will Make You a Better Writer Main picture: Hannah Grace, Unsplash

How to reach me

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media). I also help small businesses and organisations with project and operational management. I write a post every week, some about my professional life and work, and some about broader issues. You can get either of those, or both, in your email, by subscribing here. Note: This is a lightly updated version of a post that first appeared in 2020.

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