Skip to Content

Unraveling the Editorial Mysteries, Part 3: The More Eyes, the Better

by Erin Brenner

In part one of this series, I explained the difference between an editor’s title and the tasks that person performs, and I outlined what a developmental editor does. In part two, I looked at the line editor’s, copyeditor’s, and proofreader’s roles. In this final part, I’ll talk about why combining editing tasks is hazardous to the quality of the written text.

If the Shoe Fits

As in Dietderich’s post, these are simplified definitions. Really, we’re talking about two different things here: tasks and titles. I’ve seen plenty of companies advertise for a proofreader—and offer a proofreader’s salary—for a copyeditor’s job. I saw one ad the other day that wanted the right person to be both copyeditor and proofreader and still get the job done perfectly. Yet any good editor knows the best rule is “the more eyes, the better.”

It’s easy to miss an error in a piece you’ve read two or three times already. Your brain knows what comes next and your eye will skim the sentence, allowing your brain to remember rather than see. Only, your brain remembered what it was supposed to see rather than what it actually saw. Memory is funny that way. And the longer the list of possible errors is, the more opportunities to miss something.

I’ve also seen plenty of jobs that want the copyeditor to be a writer as well. Again, these are two different skills sets. Not that you can’t do both, but you shouldn’t do both on the same piece. And of course, they’re paying copyeditor wages, not writer wages, which are higher. Employers can slap any title they please on a job. Hey, I was ClickZ’s Copy Chief & Associate Editor, yet I had no copyeditors under me and I still can’t tell you what “associate editor” was supposed to mean for my employer because other associate editors in the company did not do the same job I did.

In the end, the key isn’t the job title; it’s the tasks to be performed. When clients hire me to edit for them, I don’t get hung up on titles (though I do define them). Instead, I talk to them about what kind of things they want fixed. Spelling and punctuation? Check. Grammar? Check. Usage and style? Check. How about paragraph structure, transitions, awkward constructions, etc.? The list goes on until we’ve defined the job.

Every publisher’s and writer’s needs are different. It makes sense to know what the different levels of editing are, what the editor can do to help the copy, and what the editor’s skill set is. Then, no matter what the role is called, you know what to expect from your editor. True, the jargon can weigh you down. Also true, the editorial process will likely keep getting compressed (if so, I want to be called Super Editor) and even change as digital publishing continues to develop. Knowing what your editor’s role is, rather than her title, will help you know what to expect from her.

Just don’t ask what a subeditor is.

This article originally appeared on The Writing Resource.