Advice: Editing (part 1 of 2)

Advice: Editing (part 1 of 2)

Written by: Jen Fannoun

This is a two-part series based on questions DC readers asked about editing. If you have additional questions, please send them to


1. I work as an online content contributor/editor. What makes an editor an efficient editor? Where to draw the line so that we don’t become the authors while editing a piece?

–  Mehjabin

Dear Mehjabin,

Thank you for your questions!

Efficiency can be a tricky thing for editors. Short deadlines and high-pressure assignments encourage speed, but editing is an activity that demands deliberate slowness. Balancing these needs is key. No matter how much your client, teacher, or supervisor needs a piece of editing completed, rushing won’t help. What’s the point of a half-edited article or book? That said, obsessing over a piece to the point of exaggerated slowness isn’t effective either.

So how can you balance these contrasting needs? I’d say the biggest factor is focus. The ability to submerge yourself in a piece of writing–to feel out the style, theme, arguments, and mechanics of it while also locating areas that need to be improved upon–is necessary. Focusing deeply, regardless of what sort of workplace environment you are in, enables editing that is both faster and more thorough. It’s definitely not easy to achieve this level of concentration, and there will always be a need to review your work multiple times, but if you can improve your focus, you’re on the right track to boosting your efficiency.

The answer to your second question depends on your client. There are different levels of editing; some people just want a quick spell-check, others an analysis of the entire structure of their writing work. Asking the individual(s) you’re working with exactly how much editing they need from you, and how much change they’re comfortable with you making, is an important part of the process before you begin editing. You should also be clear about your own expectations upfront–after all, you are an editor, not a ghostwriter!

Personally, I prefer not to add any full sentences to a piece I am editing. I check for spelling, capitalization, and grammatical errors; move sentences or paragraphs around; tweak certain words for added emphasis; and occasionally add phrases or transitions to make the writing more clear. But if any larger changes are needed, I tend to go back to the writer and ask them to make alterations in their work. Once they’ve done that, I’ll review any new material and continue making smaller edits as needed. This way, the goal of editing–to clarify a writer’s ideas without adding in your own–is met without undue burden on either the writer or editor.


2. How do I begin the track of becoming an editor? I would love to start editing for newspapers and websites!
– Safiya

Dear Safiya,

You could probably get a thousand different answers to this question, depending on who you ask, but here’s my take:

Editing is not the simplest field to enter, so understand that your path is going to be unique.

My editing pursuits developed organically out of my aptitudes and circumstances. Writing and editing have always come easily to me. Additionally, I grew up in a multicultural household and community, where English was a second language for many people and they often asked for help reviewing things they wrote. This combination of factors meant I had many opportunities to practice both my writing and editing skills. Over time, people began to ask me to help them out on a more formal basis, and I took classes and read books that honed my editing techniques.

My point is that there are lots of options for you to begin. If you know of people or organizations–especially nonprofits and small businesses–that could use your help, then pitch your editing skills to them. Make a case for how your editing can improve their brands or their outreach efforts. Once you have gained experience, it becomes easier to focus on editing for your ideal clients (in your case, newspapers and websites). It’s also a great idea to write as much as you can. This can help you understand the writing process, gain insight into how a writer thinks, and help you refine your own writing and editing skills.

If you’d like to have formal training as an editor, check out classes at your local college or online; some universities offer certificates in editing. Libraries or bookstores might host workshops that could be useful to you. There are also plenty of great books and online resources you can utilize. Check out these links to get started:

Books for editors

Blogs for editors

Good luck!

1 Comment

  1. Rania QI on February 13, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Great advice, Jennah! In your second part to this piece, can you offer some tips of self-editing when you’re blind by your own writing tendencies and style?

    Jazakum Allahu khayr in advance! So happy to see you partaking in this amazing initiative.

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