The when of editing

Recently, I was editing a document that didn’t seem ready for prime time. I had thought that this was a second draft, rushing to be ready to ship to our customers. I was really struggling with providing appropriate editing comments, because it seemed really rough and more like a first draft than a second draft. After making it about a third of the way through the document, I pinged the writer and asked about the document. Boy, am I glad that I did. It was actually a first draft, and the writer was hoping that I would look at the document again when it was in its second draft. I adjusted my editing comments to focus more on the broader issues, the organization issues, and global style issues, and very much enjoyed the last two thirds of the document.

This experience really got me thinking. First, I should have gathered more information (or paid closer attention to what was communicated) ahead of time. I am tweaking my process and tools to avoid this disconnect. Second, when is the best time to edit information? If you can only edit a document once, due to time and resources, is it better to edit a first draft and help structure, flow, and global style? Or, is it better to edit a second draft and help accuracy, content, and clarity? I suppose it might depend on the writer and their skills, but it sometimes might blur the line between the writing and editing processes. I am not a writer, nor do I wish to be one by rewriting or completely reorganizing a document for a writer. Working with first drafts, I sometimes feel the pull to the writing process. Working with second drafts, I definitely stay focused on the editing process.

Obviously, you can apply different types of edits at different points in the process, and that helps with this tension between the writing and editing processes. But this finally led me to another question that we have debated: Is it ever okay to return a draft to a writer and say that it is not ready to be edited? Are there certain “entrance criteria” for entering the editing process? I know some technical editors who will not edit something if it is clear that spell-checking and grammar-checking (as in running acrolinx IQ) has not been done. I think that I’m more inclined to not want to edit something that really shows a rush job has been done, where basic standards have not been followed and the topics are not well organized.

Some random, possibly disorganized thoughts for the day. Happy editing everyone!

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