A business manager who wants to get the most out of her writers should be a coaching editor who builds a collaborative relationship.
Managers might not think of themselves as editors, but they are, given that they oversee the written content that their team produces. And the best editors, even those who are not managers, are people who help writers develop, who serve as a teammate on the writing assignment. Editors and writers have a history of adversarial relationships, and it’s often not because they are looking at the writing from different perspectives but because they don’t communicate well. Consequently, the writer doesn’t improve, so the editor continues to see substandard copy.
An effective editor is not just someone who has the writing experience to rewrite information and correct grammar mistakes but someone who also can provide insight, guidance, and support that inspires the writer.
Here are a few suggestions for editors:
- Clearly explain what you want. Many writers complain, justifiably, that they receive too little direction on assignments. Give clear details about what you want.
- Provide specific feedback. What many writers hear when they turn in a draft is, “It’s not what we need. Go back and try again.” What specifically is wrong with it? The old “I’ll know it when I see it” is of no value to a writer, and it ensures that you will continue to get drafts you don’t like.
- Stay connected with writers during the assignment. Check in with a writer after she has done the necessary research but still early in the drafting phase, so that if there are problems, you can redirect the writer early. That’s preferable to being on deadline and seeing for the first time a draft that is far from what you want.
- Let the writer do most of the work. Don’t take over the draft and make changes that will suit your preferences but won’t make substantive improvements in the writing. The writer needs to learn by doing it himself. You might need to make significant changes on deadline, but generally, provide guidance and let the writer rewrite it. If you insist on giving it a makeover, writers often will give up and will submit substandard work because it’s not worth the effort to improve it.
- Show an interest in your writers so you understand them. Ask what they struggle with the most, what they enjoy about writing, and what the most difficult thing was to learn about writing in school. Even as adults, writers often are handicapped by misguided advice they received in high school.
- Ask the writer what he thinks. When you talk to a writer about a draft, ask the writer’s opinion of the piece. A writer often knows already what the problems are; what he wants is your help in fixing them. Don’t open the conversation by pouncing on all the weaknesses in the draft. The writer will feel so discouraged, he will crawl back to his desk and feel unmotivated to keep trying.
- Continue to expand your knowledge of writing. Continuing to learn about all aspects of writing not only will sharpen your own skills and deepen your knowledge but also will enable you to guide writers. A manager’s knowledge becomes an issue when it involves grammar, punctuation, or style “corrections.” You lose credibility when you make changes based not on resource books or websites but on a vague recollection of what you learned many years ago, and your assumptions are incorrect.
The best environment for writers is one where a manager is a coaching editor. When a company demonstrates that it values good writing and when supervisors do more than just edit — they also teach and encourage — writers will thrive.
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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.