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As an editor with almost a decade of experience, I can tell you what makes a good editor is a combination of different skills and qualities.
Unfortunately, there are some scammy, amateur editors out there. They promise to improve a piece of writing with little understanding of what an editor does on a daily basis.
Just like the qualities of a good editorial writer, editors need to:
- Hone their craft
- Learn technical editing skills and language
- Develop their editorial voice
- Become familiar with trusted style guides and editing resources
What Are the Qualities of a Good Editor?
You may find a good editor app or program out there. But no app is going to be able to address every issue. Even a good editor app can’t improve every story element that a project may need. Becoming a good copy editor is more than fixing typos and running spell check.
These are the best qualities every editor should possess.
A good editor will obviously have great attention to detail. More than that, they will handle a project with extreme care and caution.
Good editors aren’t out here changing things willy nilly! They are thoughtful and choose to take everything under consideration before proposing any changes.
Similarly, good editors are precise. Once they consider every course of action, they are decisive and can back up every edit or suggestion with logic, reasoning, and research.
This is really important, especially when making suggestions to an author’s work that might bring up some resistance. If you’re the surgeon bringing a manuscript to life, the author wants to trust that you are precise with your scalpel.
I’m more and more convinced that good editors are curious first and foremost. Sometimes I talk to new editors who are insecure because they don’t know The Chicago Manual of Style by heart.
But it’s really not about knowing your style guides by heart. It’s all about knowing where to look when you need to look something up, and being curious and diligent to look something up when your editing “Spidey senses” tell you something’s off.
With a good editor, there’s no stone unturned. Stay curious, and investigate everything.
A good editor is the reader’s advocate. They remain thoughtful about how an author’s message comes across in every stage of the editorial process. A good editor is obsessed with your delivery and message to the reader.
No matter the change or revision direction, a good editor makes sure the author’s words translate well on the page. They draw attention to anything that might fall flat or be misconstrued and convoluted.
A good editor is communicative every step of the way. When an author entrusts you with their work, they are entrusting you with something precious.
Don’t leave them in the dark! Share how the edits are going. Communicate clear expectations and deadlines. Make sure your client knows where you’re leading them.
#6. Timely and organized
A good editor demonstrates timeliness and organization. You meet important deadlines, communicate any potential obstacles that didn’t come up in a sample edit or estimate, and deliver a manuscript that doesn’t overwhelm the author with redlined marks and comments in a chaotic way.
Of course, depending on your level of editing, your manuscript may have plenty of suggested changes. But the way those edits are communicated is clear and not claustrophobic.
A good editor is collaborative, always inviting the author into the editing process rather than keeping them at arm’s length. Even a copyeditor can be collaborative by sharing an in-depth style sheet for the author.
Being collaborative can mean you establish almost a cowriting revision process or that you simply let the author in on why you’re proposing certain changes.
What Are the Basics of Editing?
It depends on your level of editing, but the principles of copy editing aim to address problems and inconsistencies from a mechanical or topical standpoint or by fixing infelicities of grammar, usage, punctuation, and syntax.
When it comes to what makes a good copy editor, it’s important to remember the “5 Cs of editing, which are clarity, coherency, consistency, correctness, and communication.
These are the most important goals for every editor, and these foundational qualities are what set good editors apart.
What Is an Editing Checklist?
Depending on your editing project, an editing checklist is a list of issues or inconsistencies to look out for in a piece of content.
Often these lists are included in a style sheet. Sometimes a production editor will highlight certain weaknesses to look out for before sending on the manuscript.
An editing checklist can also include more universal details to check for, like formatting changes, making sure smart apostrophes turn into curly apostrophes, or consistency in treatment of numbers.
If you’re looking for a thorough editing checklist PDF, I happen to have one here!
My editing checklist covers capitalization rules, spelling conventions, punctuation, formatting, queries and comments, and an overall quality check.
Duties of an Editor
The duties of every editor are to perform the expected level of editing, abiding by specific rules and style preferences, in a thorough, efficient manner. Keeping the reader’s focus and comprehension is a number one priority.
Every editor is responsible for demonstrating strong technical editing skills, clearly communicating edits and suggested changes in a way that encourages a path forward for revision.
No matter the level of editing a project needs, the duties of an editor are to preserve the author’s voice and style while also removing what is unnecessary, incorrect, or ambiguous, guiding the writer toward the best way to present a specific message or thesis.
Become a Confident Editor Today
If you’re ready to launch or grow your editorial business and develop the habits and systems you need to become a good, sharp editor, check out my self-led e-course, Freelance Editing 101: Launch or Grow Your Editorial Business.
If you’re wondering what makes a good editor, sign up. Use the checklists, templates, lessons, worksheets, and other resources I use every day to create a blueprint for your own business so you can flourish and develop good editorial habits.